Trial by Fire

“You can never tell what is around the bend in politics.” That was one of my final thoughts in yesterday’s post as I pondered the future of Herman Cain’s candidacy. It apparently was a prescient comment. The number one political news story all day yesterday was a Politico article pointing to sexual harassment allegations against Cain when he was head of the National Restaurant Association back in the 1990s. I always want to go to the source, so I read through that entire article to get the firsthand information. What did I find?

First, I found a clearly vague [to use a fitting oxymoron] tale of rather insubstantial accusations of improprieties. Why insubstantial? The allegations didn’t amount to much—perhaps some suggestive comments, but no outright sexual immorality. One of the so-called complaints was a hand gesture that, while not overtly sexual, made one woman feel uncomfortable. Huh? Something not overtly sexual as a basis for sexual harassment? Who thought that one up?

The second reason they were insubstantial was that everything was based on anonymous sources—the bane of all truth-seeking. Anyone can say anything anonymously, without repercussions or consequences of any kind.

Finally, near the end of the article, the other side was told: clear, crisp testimony from those who knew Cain best when he was at that association who never had heard of any such allegations and who declared him to be a man of honor and integrity in all his relationships. Later, I read even more accounts, from women as well as men who worked with him, who said the same thing.

The source itself also has to be taken into consideration. Politico is a blog closely connected with the New York Times and the Washington Post, the liberal icons of the newspaper industry. If they thought they could take down a leading Republican contender for Obama’s job, would they really draw back from the challenge?

Cain conducted a steady stream of interviews yesterday with a number of media outlets. He also kept his speaking commitments—The American Enterprise Institute in the morning and the National Press Club in the afternoon. He tackled the accusations head-on and steadfastly refuted them. His most extensive interview was with Greta Van Susteren on Fox last night. He said that there was one formal complaint filed against him, but that it was proved to be without foundation. No big settlement was reached; the employee simply walked away with a termination agreement similar to anyone else’s who had left their job at the association.

Frankly, my emotions went from apprehension in the morning to contentment by evening. Cain straightforwardly answered all questions, and did so effectively, in my view. I’m not normally given to quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, but during one of his apparently lucid moments, he is supposed to have written, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

If justice is served, this trial by fire will only strengthen Cain. It will sharpen his thinking and renew his dedication to the task at hand. It may even bolster his support, as conservatives react to what appears to be a cheap attack. We won’t know that until new polls emerge, and until votes are actually counted for the first time in Iowa. But don’t be surprised if that is the result. It would be true poetic justice.