There is nothing edifying about our current situation, where yet another high-profile politician faces the cameras to defend himself against charges of sexual harassment. Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate, finally stated categorically in a press conference that he has “never acted inappropriately with anyone - period.” How sad that the public, so jaded by similar protestations of innocence in the face of accusations, cannot take his words at face value. We have seen far too many men stare at the cameras and make such statements, only to learn later that the lies added further heft to the accumulation of shameful behavior.
How sad that the public is inundated with salacious details -- again -- by a client of controversial celebrity feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, as yet another public figure faces prosecution by the media and “we the people” are forced to serve as jurors. How sad that all the details of Sharon Bialek’s past and present life are aired while she gets her 15 minutes of fame. How sad that another accuser, Karen Kraushaar, went on from her accusations against Mr. Cain to file suit against her next employer three years later, including the demand, according to an AP interview with her former coworkers, that she be compensated with a scholarship to Harvard’s prestigious one-year executive training program.
It is especially sad that sexual harassment accusations have become entertainment and that women, like Miss Bialek, are treated like Fox News contributors. While no decent person can stay silent in the face of men exploiting women, no decent person likes to see anyone falsely accused and assumed guilty before evidence is presented. It is sad to see accusations spread around the world before being substantiated or grounded in reality.
What is the public, particularly conservatives who put a high premium on integrity of character, to do? How do we determine who and what to believe? Where is the moral high ground?
Most Cain fans continue to support him. After all, they’ve seen it before in Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin, to name but a few of the high profile Republicans who have faced media firing squads and been all but crippled by the politics of personal destruction.
At the same time, the American public has seen politicians lie their way out of embarrassing situations and try to outlast the news cycle, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. Who can blame us for assuming guilt, regardless of the validity of the accuser or the facts behind the accusations? We’ve seen numerous high-profile moral failures among politicians, including Mark Sanford, John Edwards, John Ensign, and Elliot Spitzer. We’ve been embarrassed by their public humiliation and insulted by their attitudes of moral superiority and obvious confidence in the public’s gullibility.
As a representative of the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, I will defend any woman against sexual exploitation. However, I am embarrassed at the way some feminists continue to defend Bill Clinton, even after the evidence proved his immoral and superior/subordinate relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky. We have to take sexual harassment accusations seriously, while assuming innocence until the accused is convicted. At the same time, we have to recognize that some unscrupulous women can and do take advantage of, and benefit financially from, laws that are meant to protect women, not provide them with ready cash and television face time just by making accusations or filing a lawsuit. Our legal system of checks and balances is meant to sort out truth from fiction. Unfortunately, in today’s media-saturated world, the media too often serves as the prosecutor, forcing the public to become the jurors.
Penny Young Nance, Chief Executive Officer of Concerned Women for America, put it well, “Whoever Republican primary voters choose as their nominee should be a man or woman of good moral character. We said when Bill Clinton was president that character counts, and we still believe that.”
Religious conservatives are not looking for people with unblemished records, but for people with character. We believe in the necessity for confession of sins, the power of forgiveness, and the potential of redemption when sins are faced honestly, confessed before God, and the person moves on, empowered to live a “new life” in conformity with Biblical beliefs. Those are admittedly high standards, but even his enemies admire George W. Bush for confessing his alcoholism, his repentance, and his conversion to Christianity that enabled him to quit drinking, change his life, and put it on the right track, making it possible years later for him to run for the presidency. That kind of transparency and humility before God is refreshing and gives hope to all of us who have “sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Janice Shaw Crouse, author of Children at Risk (Transaction Publishers, 2010) and the forthcoming Marriage Matters (Transaction Publishers, 2012), is Executive Director and Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.