Herman Cain and Arnold Schwarzenegger don’t have a lot in common, but there is this: Both were hit with allegations of serious sexual impropriety in the midst of their campaigns for high office. Voters forgave Schwarzenegger, who was easily elected governor in 2003. The same could still happen to Cain, but that might be more likely if the GOP presidential contender borrowed a page from Schwarzenegger’s crisis-PR script.
In the weeks before the California gubernatorial election, The Times published a series of stories airing allegations from at least 16 women who said they had been inappropriately touched or sexually humiliated by Schwarzenegger over the course of 30 years. Schwarzenegger’s response, like Cain’s, was to blame his political opponents and the media, but he also accepted some responsibility.
“I know that the people of California can see through these trash politics,” he told a crowd in San Diego after the first article appeared in The Times. “Yes. And let me tell you something — a lot of those, what you see in the stories is not true. But at the same time, I have to tell you, I always say that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true. So I want to say to you, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes.... And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize, because this is not what I tried to do.”
The charges against Cain aren’t as well documented as those against Schwarzenegger, but they may be uglier because he is accused of making unwanted advances toward women who worked for him at the National Restaurant Assn., which if true would be a gross abuse of power. Of course, only the participants know whether the claims are true, and if they aren’t, Cain has nothing to apologize for. But blanket denials were wearing thin Monday after former NRA employee Sharon Bialek came forward alleging that Cain reached under her skirt while she was seeking his help finding a job. Cain’s three other accusers haven’t revealed their identities — two of them reportedly agreed to remain silent after receiving settlement payments from the restaurant group — and the details of their allegations are unknown. But Bialek claims to have told two other people about the groping incident shortly after it happened, an important corroborating factor if true.
For the sake of his own campaign, and because Americans deserve better than the race-baiting, blame-shifting, conflicting explanations Cain has offered to date, he should stop stonewalling, answer hard questions and seek to release his accusers from their promises of silence. Candidates’ consensual sex lives are nobody’s business but their own, but when there are harassment or assault victims involved, it’s everybody’s business.