To the extent that you’ve been paying attention to the 2012 presidential campaign, you’ve probably heard of Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza guy who has this 9-9-9 plan for taxes and fixing the economy.

No one, probably least of all Cain, thought he would gain the kind of traction he currently has as the potential GOP nominee.  In reality, Cain has a book he’s trying to sell, and, well, tossing your hat casually into the ring for a political race is a great way to sell books, right?

Except that in the Republican ‘anyone but Mitt Romney’ dystopia, Cain is, at least for the moment in the polling, a frontrunner.

But whether he remains at the front of the pack will depend on how we, as voters, respond to the news that he may have had a little problem with sexual harassment.  Few of the actual details of the alleged incidents while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association are available — yet — because the women who accused him signed confidentiality agreements when they settled their claims against Cain.

But you know how we love a good story about personal failings and sex!  The reports about Cain are getting a lot of attention, but I’m wondering — will it ultimately matter?  I’d like to think that in the 21st century, that if the allegations against Cain are true, it would be a negative enough reflection on his judgment that he’d be out of the GOP race.  But I know better than that.

I’m not sure things have changed sufficiently enough in the last few decades that voters would say “no” to a candidate who made unwanted sexual advances toward his then-employees.   Are we still a country with a mindset that 20 years ago gave a pass to Clarence Thomas when Anita Hill came forward with reports of unwanted sexual advances?  Things really haven’t changed a lot when it comes to the level of respect, or disrespect, that women have in our society. And, we do have quite the history of giving powerful men a pass when it comes to their “indiscretions.”

Ultimately, the question is whether this is a story about sex or one of character and leadership.  Or maybe Cain realized he was truly in over his head and made sure someone stealthily leaked the information?  Presidential politics is always a crazy game — at this point, nothing would surprise me.

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