After 25 years of post-Watergate scandals, political people have figured out what you do about a skeleton like Cain’s: Enter crisis mode. Gather every witness and piece of paper you can. Have your story straight. Identify the holes in it and shore them up. Then get out in front with the story line—quickly, before the cold turns into pneumonia. Everybody knows this....But what Garment really wants to talk about is — as she puts it — "what the Cain scandal... says about us." She offers 2 "possibilities." One is that the scandal confirmed what the press already thought of him, that he's got a "substandard... organization," and so the scandal works as "a hard news hook on which to hang a soft judgment." If that's what's going on, we are in the middle of ending Cain's viability as a candidate.
The other possibility is the one people mention, then recoil from as if they’d touched a hot stove: the possibility that we’re watching a Thomas. It’s no wonder they recoil. Twenty years ago, the question of whether Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas made unwelcome sexual comments to Anita Hill turned into a piece of political theater that scorched not just the two principals but those who observed them and the confirmation process itself.What is Garment really trying to say? I find her writing a strange combination of tortured and mealy-mouthed. I think she's saying Cain is an inadequate candidate and this scandal provides an opportunity to take him down soundly and efficiently, but she's worried that people will fight for him, and she warning us not to go there. It will be ugly.
Even partisans of then-Judge Thomas asked themselves, if they were honest, about the climate that subjected Hill to such an unremitting attack on her character. Even partisans of Hill asked themselves, if they were honest, about the venom of the attack on a conservative black man.
Yes, we have no idea of how much or how little the particular facts of the Cain and Thomas situations resemble each other. But no one who watched the Hill-Thomas struggle can forget the sheer hatefulness exposed by the controversy, and no one who watches the Cain scandal can avoid the echoes of that memory. All one can hope is that an awareness of the past ugliness will keep us from repeating it.
I don't know her politics, but I suspect that if she was around 20 years ago, she was one of the many people who thought that Clarence Thomas, when accused of sexual harassment, would accept the shame and quietly remove himself from the national stage. But he stood his ground, the fight took place, and he has held his position on the Court to this day.
Can Garment really think that those of us who respect Clarence Thomas wish he'd spared us that fight by departing on cue? What would have happened next? We'd have learned that opponents can take down a preferred candidate by throwing an accusation against him about something that happened without witnesses other than the accuser and the accused. How many times would that scenario play out before people would rouse themselves from that self-defeating passivity?
Garment doesn't mention Bill Clinton, but there's a man who dragged the country through an unbelievably ugly ordeal to hold onto his power, and his co-partisans supported him on that long march through the mud, even at the cost of selling out all the principle they'd seemed to care so deeply about only a few years before when they tried to take down Clarence Thomas.