The XX Factor

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.