Inquirer Editorial: Up to Cain to clear the air

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, center, enters a conference room to make a statement after meeting with doctors attending the Docs4PatientCare conference in Alexandria, Va.,Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, center, enters a conference room to make a statement after meeting with doctors attending the Docs4PatientCare conference in Alexandria, Va.,Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Posted: November 03, 2011

Comparisons with Clarence Thomas began as soon as Herman Cain announced he was running for president as a Republican. Now, Cain is having his own Anita Hill moment.

Two women reportedly accused Cain of sexual harassment when he ran the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999. Apparently, the unidentified women were paid settlements, though association officials had not confirmed that. The New York Times reported that one woman received $35,000, which was a year's salary.

An attorney for the second woman asked Tuesday that she be released from a confidentiality clause in her 1999 agreement, saying she "disputes Mr. Cain's claims that he never sexually harassed anyone."

Cain initially denied any settlement was paid. He later said in regard to one case that "there was some sort of settlement or termination," but that the amount wasn't large. His murky memory hurts him. Clarity is essential for presidential candidates.

Of course, even if Cain recounts to the minutest detail his version of what led to the harassment allegations, it won't change the minds of some people. Twenty years later, there are those who believe Thomas harassed Hill, and those who don't.

People will debate whether an ambitious executive like Cain would jeopardize his business career by harassing women. Surely, when he was a manager at Coca-Cola, Pillsbury, Burger King, and Godfather's Pizza, where he was CEO, he was at some point taught proper workplace behavior.

Cain told a PBS reporter that one of his acccusers must have thought he was "too close for comfort" when he stood near her and said, "You're the same height of my wife," who is 5 feet tall and "comes up to my chin."

Sounds innocent enough, but innocence is in the eye of the beholder. An anonymous source told the Times that Cain's other accuser had made more than one claim about his behavior.

Cain's candidacy may weather these vague allegations from the past. His defenders say the charges amount to a "high-tech lynching," the same words Thomas used when Hill's accusations almost derailed his nomination to become the Supreme Court's second African American justice.

Thomas' reference to the long list of black men unjustifiably accused of raping white women and lynched after the Civil War and into the 20th century helped turn public opinion in his favor.

Thomas never faced an official complaint or lawsuit by Hill, but there should be records in Cain's settlements of what each person said transpired.

Cain may not want to share that information, but at least one of his accusers does - and that's the best way to clear the air and move on.

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