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“He Looked Beyond My Fault”: Herman Cain Can Do No Wrong

By an accident of timing, Herman Cain appeared on Monday morning at the intersection of 17th and M Streets, Northwest – the location of the National Restaurant Association, where he is alleged to have sexually harassed two women when he was the group’s chief executive.

The allegations, first reported by Politico, could not have come at a worse time for the front-running Republican presidential candidate: just ahead of a very public day of speeches in Washington. The first was scheduled at the American Enterprise Institute, which happens to be right across the street from the restaurant association. It was, as one political reporter at the AEI event put it, like going into the lion’s den wearing a Lady Gaga meat suit.

And so Cain did what he always does: He turned a devastating situation to his advantage. “By the way, folks, yes, I am an unconventional candidate,” he told the overflowing crowd. “And, yes, I do have a sense of humor. And some people have a problem with that. But . . . Herman is going to stay Herman.”

So the women who filed the complaints didn’t get his sense of humor? And that’s the end of it?

It just may be. This sort of scandal would end the career of many a politician. But the usual rules don’t apply to Herman Cain. He survives gaffes and scandal the way he beat colon cancer – and whatever doesn’t kill him makes him stronger.

He says he would negotiate a swap of terrorists at Gitmo – then claims he misunderstood the question. He claims abortion should be an individual choice – then again says he misunderstood. He proposes an electrified border fence that could kill immigrants from Mexico – then says people didn’t get the joke.

Evidence that he has said something dumb, or offensive, only confirms to his supporters that he is not another polished pol like Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. And so Cain doesn’t need to know what a neocon is, he can weather campaign-funding irregularities, he can have his campaign manager blow cigarette smoke in a campaign ad, he can skip the early primary states in favor of a book tour of the south, and he can sing about pizza to a John Lennon tune. If Herman Cain were found to be a serial killer, his supporters would take this, too, as reassuring evidence that he is not just another career politician.

This allows Cain to perform as a self-parody on the campaign trail, confident that whatever absurdity he comes up with will only add to his outsider mystique. Arriving on stage for the AEI speech, he began by asking his microphone be turned down because “I’ll blow this thing to smithereens.”

He then proceeded to blow up the usual political constraints. He responded to a British reporter with a phony English accent. When asked about energy policy, Cain said he’d get to it on day two of his administration. “Day one, I’m going to take a nap.” Asked about his prospects to remain a top-tier candidate, he replied: “This flavor of the week is now the flavor of the month, and it still tastes good.”

Cain’s hosts at AEI forbid any questions about the sexual harassment claims; ABC’s Jonathan Karl had the microphone taken from him and shut off when he tried to ask about the “big cloud” over Cain.

That had the effect of moving the reporters’ interest to Cain’s second appearance of the day, at the National Press Club. “I have never sexually harassed anyone,” the candidate said. If the trade group paid a settlement, “I hope it wasn’t for much.” (Later in the day he acknowledged remembering one of the settlements.)

So would he ask for records of the investigation to be released in order to shoot down the allegations? “No, there’s nothing to shoot down,” he replied, and “the policies of the restaurant association is not to divulge that information.”

Nothing to see here. Move along. And Cain did. He had more fun with his signature policy proposal (“How did we come up with 9-9-9? Why not 10-10-10, why not 8-8-8?). And he asserted his belief that life imitates the pizza business. “The way we renewed Godfather’s Pizza as a company is the same approach I will use to renew America.”

When asked to go beyond the slogans, Cain requested a lifeline, inviting advisor Rich Lowrie to answer the question for him. Though letting his aide field the tough stuff, Cain was happy to handle the final question himself – a request for a song. This time, Cain crooned a few bars from the hymn “He Looked Beyond My Fault.”

For Cain and his forgiving supporters, it could be a theme song.

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Immigration, Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Legacy Of The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings

Even now, with the healing distance of two decades, the subject of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas retains its power to provoke and divide.

It was 20 years ago this month that Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, threatening to derail Thomas’s imminent confirmation to the Supreme Court. I spent the weekend-long marathon of hearings in the Senate Caucus Room, the majestic setting of soaring marble columns and gilded ceiling contrasting with the squalid details of Hill’s allegations.

 It was both riveting and horrifying. By the time the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were gaveled to a close at 2 a.m. Monday, I — like everyone else — was simply relieved that it was over.

Looking back, it is possible to trace the larger cultural and political legacy, both good and bad, of that painful moment.

First, the Thomas-Hill hearings heralded a coarsening of the national dialogue. It goes too far to suggest cause and effect; there is no straight line between the hearings and, say, wardrobe malfunctions or “Jersey Shore.” But the hearings, with their nationally televised discussion of Thomas’s alleged tastes in pornography and his explicit overtures, crossed an invisible line into a cruder culture.

A few years earlier, I had covered a trial involving a sexual act that the existing stylebook would let me describe, rather misleadingly, only as “sodomy.” A few years later, the nation found itself in a graphic discussion about the precise meaning of “sexual relations” and the DNA evidence on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.

The intervening experience of the Thomas-Hill hearings, with the discussion of Thomas’s alleged interest in “Long Dong Silver” and commentary about pubic hair on a Coke can, helped define deviancy downward. As we sat at the press table during the most explicit testimony, the New York Times reporter turned to me, a stricken look on his face, and asked how we were going to write about all this, given our newspapers’ notorious queasiness about sexual matters. In the end, our stories were unexpurgated.

Second, the hearings heralded — although again they did not create — an intensifying of the partisan divide. The 1987 fight over the failed nomination of Robert Bork was intense but nowhere near as personal or partisan.

As with the Clinton impeachment several years later, the Thomas nomination witnessed each side automatically lining up in support of, or in opposition to, the protagonist. Senators who wanted to see Thomas on the high court credited his version of events; those who wanted him defeated for other reasons chose to believe Hill. The facts themselves took second place to political interests.

Indeed, the very women’s groups most exercised about Thomas’s alleged misconduct were notably, shamefully silent when it came to Clinton’s behavior with a White House intern and his false statements under oath.

In hindsight, the Thomas confirmation seems almost quaint, with the Senate’s majority vote in favor of the nominee. The possibility of a filibuster was bargained away early on. Today, an option that once seemed nuclear has become the norm.

The third legacy of the Thomas hearings is a positive one: lower tolerance for sexual harassment and greater political prominence for women. Back then, an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee was inclined to ignore the Hill allegations. That would not happen today, with two women on the panel, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Two women served in the Senate in 1991; there are 17 today.

As to sexual harassment, of course such behavior still occurs and some women still endure it, rather than speak out. But Hill’s reluctant testimony educated and chastened many men, and it emboldened many women. The workplace of 2011 may not be perfect, but it is a better, fairer place.

For me, the final legacy of the hearings is entirely personal: It’s how I met my husband, who worked on the committee staff for a Democratic senator. Late on the weekend that the Hill story leaked, as I was scrambling to confirm it, he returned my phone call, explaining that he had been away at his grandmother’s 90th birthday party.

Who, he asked, was Anita Hill? He seemed like a nice guy, so with uncharacteristic patience, I brought him up to speed, instead of following my instinct to pronounce him useless and hang up. It was only months later — after we started dating — that I discovered he was feigning ignorance out of professional caution.

Twenty years and two beautiful children later, I still believe Anita Hill. But I owe an odd, unpayable debt to Justice Thomas.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 4, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Equal Rights, GOP, Ideologues, Politics, Press, Republicans, Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Senate Report: Sen. Tom Coburn Actively Negotiated Multi-Million Dollar Hush Money Package For Ensign’s Mistress

After a 22-month investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee released a report on the conduct of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who resigned early this month. The report contains voluminous evidence suggesting Ensign may have violated several laws in an effort to cover up an affair with a member of his staff. The committee has referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

Contained in the 67-page report, however, is troubling evidence of the central role that current Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) played in trying to keep Ensign’s mistress and her husband quiet — evidence that contradicts Coburn’s previous public statements on the matter.

In July 2009, Coburn said he was consulting with Ensign “as a physician and as an ordained deacon” and he considered it a “privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody.” Asked about the claim from Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, that he “urged Ensign to pay the Hamptons millions of dollars,” Coburn said, “I categorically deny everything he said.”

Coburn was similarly blunt in a November 22, 2009 interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told me flatly that he did not offer to broker a million-dollar deal between his Senate colleague, John Ensign, R-Nev., and the family of Ensign’s mistress.

Doug Hampton, the husband of a staffer with whom Ensign had an affair, makes the explosive allegation in an interview with “Nightline’s” Cynthia McFadden that will air on Monday.

…When I asked Coburn on This Week if Hampton is telling the truth, he said, “There was no negotiation,” but acknowledged that he had worked to “bring two families to a closure of a very painful episode.”

Coburn eventually agreed to cooperate with the Ethics Committee; their findings on the level of his involvement are startling. According to the committees report, Coburn actively assisted in the discussions of a hush money package, negotiating a proposed package from $8 million down to $2.8 million. The ethics committee report, on pages 37 to 38, describes the negotiation between Mr. Albregts, an attorney for the husband of Ensign’s mistress, and Sen. Coburn:

Mr. Albregts tried to get a ballpark estimate from Senator Coburn as to the amount he would be comfortable with. Mr. Albregts proposed $8 million based on a document Doug Hampton prepared. According to Mr. Albregts, Senator Coburn said that the figure was absolutely ridiculous. Senator Coburn then stated that the Ensigns should buy the Hamptons home because it is so close to the Ensigns, and the Hamptons should receive an amount of money above and beyond that to start over, buy a new home, have some living money while they were looking for new employment, and possibly some seed money to send the children off to college. Senator Coburn stated that that’s what I’ve thought from day one would be fair, but said that $8 million was nowhere close to a reasonable figure. Senator Coburn told Mr. Albregts to figure out what those amounts would be, and call him back.

Mr. Albregts then spoke with Mr. Hampton, and asked him how much it would cost to get the house paid for, and how much he needed above that figure to get started somewhere new. Mr. Hampton then came back with some figures, and estimated $1.2 million for the home, and another $1.6 million to get started somewhere new. Mr. Albregts called Senator Coburn back for the final time with this revised figure on the same day in a five-minute call. Per Mr. Albregts, Senator Coburn responded by stating that okay, that’s what I had in mind and I think is fair and said he would take the figure to the Ensigns.

The Ensigns rejected the new offer. Previous reports referenced Coburn’s role as a go-between but did not reveal the extent of his inovlement in the negotations. The report notes that “Mr. Albregts testified that Senator Coburn took an active role in the negotiations between Mr. Hampton and Senator Ensign, and this role included proposing specific resolutions.” Coburn told the committee that he was “simply going to pass information” to Ensign.

One thing is certain: Tom Coburn has a lot of explaining to do.

By: Judd Legum, Think Progress, May 12, 2011

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, DOJ, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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