Thursday, November 03, 2011
Finally, something we Americans can understand: a good, old-fashioned sex scandal. None of that exhaustingly complex financial lingo to comprehend; no "credit default swaps" or "CDOs" to try to wrap your brain around. No elaborate timelines or spiderwebs of interconnected parties at various levels of government and business to follow. No globe-decimating repercussions that reach down into the lives of each and every one of us. Just one boorish guy accused of possibly trying to sleep with a bunch of women who weren't his wife. It's titillating, easy to understand, and generally the way things ought to be -- what the American mind at the beginning of the 21st century was made for.
I've been reluctant to even get into the sexual harassment scandal currently sucking Herman Cain up into its vortex for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that it doesn't matter one bit -- the scandal, I mean. Yesterday a GOP operative and former National Restaurant Association worker said he personally witnessed Cain harassing a woman during the latter's time as head of the NRA and that if the details of that encounter came out, it would spell "the end Cain's campaign." Except that Cain's campaign doesn't need a crude interaction with a woman -- or even three, as has been accused -- to spell the end of his campaign. The damn thing was over about three seconds after the words "I'm running for president" came tumbling out of Cain's big, undisciplined mouth. While Vanity Fair calls Cain's instantly doomed run a "tiresome national distraction," I'll be a little more characteristically blunt: Scarlett Johansson will sit on my face and piss morphine into my mouth before Herman Cain becomes the Republican nominee for President of the United States. It's never gonna happen. Period.
A better story, of course, is how quickly and viciously the candidates who make up the GOP 2012 Presidential Candidate Clown Car continued their proud tradition of immediately turning on each other once Cain wound up in the media crosshairs. Cain's camp, led by cigarette-smoking weirdo Mark Block, quickly faulted floundering drunk Rick Perry for leaking the story to the press, continuing another proud tradition in Republican politics: blaming the person who ostensibly rats out the bad behavior rather than the one who actually engages in it. Whether the Perry camp really did have anything to do with the media getting hold of the story, who knows, and again it hardly matters. Since day one Cain has been his own worst enemy -- a walking punchline -- and his fade-back-into-obscurity or embarrassing public implosion was always just a matter of time.
There is, however, one genuinely fascinating aspect to this whole scandal -- and that's the predictable left-versus-right reaction to it. If you figured the whole debate over what constitutes sexual harassment -- in all of its uncomfortable detail -- had been mercifully killed off and buried in the immediate wake of the Clarence Thomas saga, its zombiefied remains crawled out of the grave just in time for Halloween. And apparently when it comes to sexual politics not a damn thing has changed in twenty years. The right still believes that women in the workplace, by and large, need to grow thicker skin, and the left still thinks that it's entirely the prerogative of the person claiming harassment to decide what exactly constitutes that harassment. As usual, the realistic approach is somewhere between the two ends.
Only a Neanderthal would think that sexually harassing a peer or subordinate in the workplace is acceptable, but the nebulous nature of sexual harassment can easily get a well-intentioned schlub inadvertently lumped in with the obnoxious overgrown frat-boy set. I get that this is why so many working environments have adopted draconian policies against sexually suggestive talk of any kind, but let's be honest: How many offices really exist in some kind of politically correct Utopian bubble where nobody ever makes an offhand comment, questionable joke or ill-advised advance? We're people, not robots -- each of us is different and looks at the world in a unique way, and when you get a bunch of us together there's going to be tension, no matter what safeguards are put in place in the futile hope of making all of us equals (the great irony to our claims of valuing a diverse workforce, by the way). What's perfectly acceptable to one person is entirely offensive to someone else.
Where the usual suspects on the right are correct in their indignation is when they argue that it's wrong to turn workplaces into witch hunts every time some poor jackass makes a comment that his or her coworker finds objectionable. Harassment is actually in the eye of the beholder, and there's not a damn thing wrong with recognizing the potential predicament that can lead to. You're not a Philistine for admitting that each person will likely see an undefined issue differently. Likewise, no one should lose his or her job for saying something intended innocently but interpreted offensively; that intent should actually be taken into consideration. Again, where the Laura Ingrahams of the world, as generally abhorrent as they are, are right on this is when they say that a woman who's on the receiving end of an unwanted comment or advance shouldn't make immediately reporting the dingbat behind it a matter of policy. Yes, if somebody says something to you that pisses you off, you should actually let that person know what he's done before running and trying to get him officially disciplined. He does it again, he's been warned -- and all bets are off.
Where the talking heads on the left are correct in this whole debate is when they say that a system has to be in place designed to protect women in particular from serial leches. The arrogant assholes who regularly use their authority to try to pressure their peers and underlings into compromising positions and who believe that they can do so with impunity. If the reports about him turn out to be true, that's exactly the group Herman Cain will seem to fall into. He won't be some average doof who's made an untoward but relatively harmless comment to a coworker over the copier; he'll be an incorrigible lothario who thinks his position of power grants him the right to try to bed anyone he chooses and, seemingly, to shame them if they refuse him and then fight back. It'll make him a despicable piece of shit.
And it'll mean that he'll never be President of the United States.
But he was never going to be anyway.