Herman Cain, a leading candidate in the primaries for the Republican nominee for president, confirmed today that he had been the subject of sexual harassment allegations while serving as the head of the National Restaurant Association. Coming in the wake of the twentieth anniversary of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, the charges against Mr. Cain remind us how ever-present sexual harassment is in the workplace.
Anita Hill has reminded us that she came forward not expecting any remedy for her claim regarding the conduct of Clarence Thomas but to point out that such conduct made him unfit for the office he sought-a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. The same is true of Mr. Cain. If he sexually harassed female subordinates, then his fitness for the office of president of the United States is called into question.
We are of course mindful of the claim that there is a “witch hunt” going on, or at least political opportunism, motivated more by a desire to injure a surging candidate than to vindicate the rights of women. Apparently, investigative journalists have uncovered this story as a part of the focus on Cain as a public figure. Why didn’t the woman come forward long ago, some have asked? If they entered into a confidential settlement agreement, that alone explains their failure ever to make their claims public. One thing we know for sure-the rush to call women liars is very troubling and depressingly familiar. Public opinion was “against” Anita Hill at the time, too, but today, a large majority says she was telling the truth.
Let’s hope we have learned something in the last 20 years. This time, let’s approach this issue with a shared understanding that sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and, in a candidate, it is a disqualifier.