Are Americans becoming more forgiving of sexual scandal when it comes to their presidential candidates? Consider the case of Herman Cain.
It seems Cain may have alternated between three very different sexual worlds: marriage, harassment and a consensual affair. He is battered and bruised in the polls, reassessing his candidacy, but still, as of this post, standing. We’ve come a long way since Gary Hart in 1984, who was driven from the presidential race almost immediately with the revelation that he had spent a night with a woman other than his wife after he challenged the press to “follow him around.”
So why has Cain survived this long? One explanation is that his foibles are too entertaining to let him die. In this theory, he’s just another click generator on the scandal sheet, and the Google news aggregators won’t let him go away. A second possibility -- and I like this because it is redolent of conspiracy -- Cain is surviving because the other candidates need him. The bullfighter needs the clown for distraction, and Cain’s peccadilloes keep the bull at bay from Rommey and Gingrich. The third possibility is that Americans have developed a new standard of judgment for politicians, making them more tolerant of actions that would have ruined them just a short time ago.
Having set the possible reasons for Cain’s unexpected political longevity, I’ll venture an opinion. Cain does not represent a shift in political mores. Americans may be less squeamish about sexual matters, but the allegations about Cain include two that will continue to drain his polls if not drive him from the race: using power to denigrate people and lying about his behavior repeatedly. Given a chance to test a new theory of sexual-political tolerance, Cain seems to have played the same old role of the cad.