Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guest Blogger: Paul Apostolidis

The other day I was a guest on a radio talk show about Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment of women he worked with at the National Restaurant Association. Right out of the gate, the host asked me skeptically whether I thought the “details mattered.” “Isn’t this just about low-road political combat, and aren’t we all tired of that old story?” – those were the implied questions. Or maybe: “Isn’t it kind of juvenile to look for cheap thrills by asking who did what to whom?”

I think the details do matter. And it’s a sign of political sophistication rather than naïveté or puerility to think so.

In the first place, they matter because this scandal is about sexual harassment, not just sex with the wrong people. Sexual harassment is illegal. That makes it fundamentally different from the behavior usually at issue in a sex scandal: marital infidelity, or sex that isn’t straight, like what John Edwards, Tiger Woods, or Larry Craig (allegedly) did.

What’s more, sexual harassment is a deeply rooted social problem that our political system isn’t helping to solve – but should. As president, would Cain be part of the problem, or part of the solution? There is a huge amount we don’t know about why sexual harassment happens and what its effects are. That’s because only a tiny percentage of sexual harassment charges are not settled in the confidential way that Cain’s were. With such “agreements” putting a gag on people who bring charges, we need action by the Justice Department to study the problem and give us some basic information. Small chance of that happening under a President Cain, who doesn’t even want to talk about the subject.

The details also matter because they remind us that we ought to judge Cain’s candidacy, in part, by whether he would do anything as president to address the many stubborn inequalities women in America face. Take a look at Cain’s website, and you’ll search in vain for proposals that mention anything resembling a gender imbalance. Women earning less than three-quarters of men’s income? Not interested. The massive subsidies this showers on discriminatory employers, whose tax burdens Cain so thunderously denounces? Hmm, let’s talk about something else. The way women’s unequal pay reduces government revenues and helps bankrupt the public programs women need? Just keep saying “9-9-9,” and maybe it will all go away.

America needs a president who is not so comfortable with the ways our society still treats women as second-class citizens.