Let's put some things aside. I condemn sexual harassment. I have no intention of voting for
Herman Cain. I don't know if Herman Cain committed sexual harassment. What I do know is that settlements of law suits including those alleging sexual harassment are not evidence of anything. Law suits are settled everyday because of the embarrassment a trial may bring and the expense of defending. One of the great failures of our judicial system is the cost of justice. Many suits without merit are settled, because it takes too great an expenditure of time and money to defend them. Settlement may well be an admission of guilt, but it is wrong to assume that it is.
I watched television today with some horror as Mr. Cain was barraged with questions as to whether or not "allegations of sexual harassment" were made against him and whether or not those claims were settled. Questions as to whether or not he committed sexual harassment certainly would be appropriate. The only relevant question is whether or not the allegations are true, not whether they were made.
Sexual harassment is a serious matter and is certainly relevant as to whether or not someone is qualified to be President of the United States. But these revelations say more about our political system and its coverage than they do about Herman Cain. The media serves an important function when it vets political candidates or nominees and searches their past for evidence relevant to their qualifications. But all too often the revelations are minuscule and ancient. The previous scandal of choice is hiring an undocumented alien. I don't think anyone (and certainly not someone as wealthy as Mitt Romney) hires a gardener and checks the immigration status of each person that gardener employs.
I do not suggest that sexual harassment falls into the same category -- it is far more serious. But think of the time and effort that has been devoted to President Obama's birth certificate and more importantly, how this non-fact regarding his birth has been accepted by so many as the truth. Even if false, the allegations have a life of their own. I recognize that reporters' questions are not subject to the same strictures as questions asked in a trial. Courts don't allow "When did you stop beating your wife?" questions, because the question presupposes a fact not in evidence. A question that asks whether allegations were made -- not whether they are true -- has the same effect.
And now the media is suggesting that how the questions were handled reflects upon Mr. Cain's competency -- not the truth so much as the technique employed to respond. The same has been true in respect to the Republican debates. The emphasis is on how well the candidates performed rather than what they actually said or believe. Being "glib" is more important than being smart. As a result, many select and elect candidates around the edges and focus on what the media considers important -- no matter how trivial -- and not on the fundamental beliefs and qualifications of the candidates.
If Herman Cain was guilty of sexual harassment then it is appropriate for that fact to influence his election chances. If he is not guilty of sexual harassment, the fact that it was alleged against him and settled should play no part in his candidacy. It is the answer and the truth that are relevant; not the question and its inferences.