This post originally appeared at Smoking Politics.
Politico has revealed allegations that Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain, the front-runner in the Republican Presidential primaries, was accused of sexual harassment in the late 90s and that his employer, the National Restaurant Association, settled the charges with a cash payout. His explanation is that he made a certain gesture and said his wife is "this tall," and was sued for a lot of money.
My take on it: I don't see it. Unless something else comes up I have not heard enough evidence to make me question Cain's character -- on this issue. (His 9-9-9 plan is a whole different story.) I haven't heard of anything that might indicate a pattern. I don't even think it looks bad that this was settled. I think the Association would have settled rather than fight the charges because that saves a great deal of money, even if Cain was innocent, so settling, to me, is not evidence of guilt. I've run a company, people sue you when you run a company or an association or other organization. (My own policy was never settle, and that ended up costing me a great deal of money going to court and winning.) They say something happened at an event "at a hotel." It sounds bad that it happened at an event at a hotel, but this was the Restaurant Association and they do all kinds of events at hotels. And here is the main thing: there are two major Presidential campaigns that have very good reason to make Cain look bad. So I am withholding judgement.
Where Did It Come From?
This story likely came from either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney's campaign, in my opinion. Cain is the front-runner in the polls, Perry and Romney believe they are entitled to be the candidate, they feel Cain is a distraction from the "serious people's" race and they really, really want Cain out of the way so they can get at tearing each other up instead. Of course one of them set this up.
This is not a particularly bad thing. A Presidential candidate needs to be able to field this kind of thing. It's part of the screening, part of the landscape of this. A President is going to be accused of things; do we want a President who flubs it when accused of things he or she actually didn't do? No, we want to know that a President can get distractions out of the way. (We also want to know if the candidate really does have a character flaw, like I said I am withholding judgement until I see more to go on.)
Is This A Smear?
Do the accusations rise to the level of a smear, like the Swift Boat attack on Kerry, or the various attacks on Gore and Obama? I don't classify this as a smear, I'd call it typical campaign stuff. Seriously, it is just a media outlet reporting some facts. There is no echo chamber primed to amplify it, no larger narrative that it is intended to reinforce. I would say that a smear -- the kind we fight here at Smoking Politics -- is a false charge designed to fit into a larger narrative that is part of an ideological strategy. This is just a news report about something that did happen -- the accusation and settlement. It is not structured around a narrative about Cain, it's just a typical campaign hit to try to knock him out of the primary. Just no big deal, let's see how well Cain handles it.
Bigger Picture -- The Narrative
So on to the bigger picture of how these stories affect campaigns and our politics, which is what Smoking Politics is about. How should we react to this story? And how is it being used? Specifically, what narrative, or propaganda point, is the being driven with the story?
The movement right sees an opportunity to use this to further their anti-"liberal" propaganda narrative. (That's who they are, that's what they do.) They are charging that this is an example of "liberals" attacking a conservative. They are saying Cain is a victim of liberal attacks. Heh.
Rush Limbaugh says this is the "mainstream media" attacking a conservative, and adds a racial element. (Because that's what he does.) From the transcript: We Should Not be Surprised by the Left's Racist Hit Job on Herman Cain.
"Look at how quickly what is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative. ... The racial stereotypes that these people are using to go after Herman Cain, what is the one thing that it tells us? It tells us who the real racists are, yeah, but it tells us that Herman Cain is somebody. Something's going on out there. Herman Cain obviously is making some people nervous for this kind of thing to happen.
[. . .] We cannot have a black Republican running for the office of president. We can't have one elected. We can't have an Hispanic. The left owns those two groups, and those two groups are gonna forever be minorities. Those groups cannot ever be seen to be self-sufficient or rising above, on their own. Those two groups are owned -- lock, stock, and barrel -- by the Democrat Party and anything good that happens to any black or Hispanic in American politics can only happen via the Democrat Party. "If it happens elsewhere, we're gonna destroy those people -- a la Clarence Thomas."
The poisonous Ann Coulter says it is "liberals" doing this. She told - who else - Fox News,
"It's outrageous the way liberals treat a black conservative," she told Geraldo. "This is another high-tech lynching. ... Nothing liberals fear more than a black conservative."
Please, one thing that Democrats want more than anything is for Cain to be the candidate. And calling Politico a liberal, mainstream media outlet? It's not for nothing that bloggers call it "Drudgico."
How To React?
This sort of thing happens in campaigns -- and it should. Like I said, it's just a news report about an accusation and settlement from a long time ago. It gives us a chance to learn about Cain. It gives Cain a chance to show us how he handles things. It isn't a smear, it's a news report about something that happened. We'll see how he does.