Should the Wifely Defense Still Carry Political Weight?

What Women Really Think
Nov. 15 2011 5:39 PM

Should the Wifely Defense Still Carry Political Weight?

Gloria Cain says her husband, Herman, isn't capable of sexual harassment. How does she know for sure?

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has made much of the fact that his wife, Gloria, does not believe the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him by former co-workers. He’s even quoted her as saying: “That doesn’t even sound like anything you would ever do.”

In an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Monday Gloria Cain essentially says the same thing but elaborates further, saying she knows him better than anyone and is certain he’s not capable of the boorish behavior he’s accused of having exhibited.


“There were such ugly things said and I kept thinking who are these people talking about, this isn’t Herman,” she said. “… I know the person that he is and I know that the person that they were talking about I don’t know who that person is and we’ve been married for 43 years. And if I haven’t seen parts of that person in 43 years I don’t think I’m that simple that I would miss something that significant.”

Her husband, she insists, would only be capable of doing such things if he had “a split personality.”

I’m not sure if this is the newest excuse to be added to the annals of defenses offered by political wives whose husbands have been accused of sexual misbehavior, or just one I’ve not heard before. Either way it makes me wonder why these women think that simply talking about their own knowledge about, and trust in, their husbands is enough to help their men regain the public’s trust. I understand it was once a surefire political strategy for damage control: Sincere, loving wife comes out and says husband is a good man who would never disrespect her or any other woman. Public believes her, gives husband a pass, and votes him into office.

That’s exactly what Maria Shriver did for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and look how that turned out.  But in the world we live in today the I-trust-him-and-you should-too tactic just doesn’t cut it anymore. And it shouldn’t. The public is smarter than that, more jaded by experience, less willing to trust wives deeply invested in their husbands' political fortunes. (Let’s recall Elizabeth Edwards' support for John Edwards continuing his campaign for president even after she learned about his mistress and lovechild.)  

Sexual harassment is not the same thing as fathering a child with a mistress while running for president, or having an affair with an intern in the White House, but, like those acts, the harassment does involve behavior of a sexual nature – albeit nonconsensual – with women who are not the politicians’ wives. Wives who nonetheless defend them. While Herman Cain has vigorously denied the allegations against him and we can’t be certain of who’s telling the truth, one thing is certain -- usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Herman Cain has been accused by four women and, his angry denials notwithstanding, there’s a growing conflagration around him. If his lawyer’s recent threats don’t scare off his accusers, or any others who may not yet have come forward, we may get more details about the allegations and Cain may find himself suffering from smoke inhalation.

Gloria Cain may know a very different Herman Cain than the one his accusers know. Most husbands who sexually harass women don’t do it when their wives are around, so it’s understandable that Gloria Cain would have trouble believing the accusations. Herman Cain’s problem is not whether his wife believes the allegations; it’s whether the public does. With accusers seemingly coming out of the woodwork, sooner or later his protestations of being persecuted by lying women will ring hollow.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Dear Prudence
Oct. 2 2014 6:00 AM Can’t Stomach It I was shamed for getting gastric bypass surgery. Should I keep the procedure a secret?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?