Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicator means this column appears here about a week after its newspaper release. This, for instance, came out before Cain packed it in)

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       FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, DEC. 2, 2011
       Well, so much for that self-imposed Herman Cain hiatus, a timeout from dwelling on the many facets of his improbable candidacy. To maintain some proportionate coverage, it was time to focus elsewhere, like on Newt’s bizarre rise from the dead. But the moratorium must be broken in order to ponder the Cain campaign’s mortality and, specifically, its death. 
       When Ginger Smith came forward with the claim that she and Cain had indulged in a 13-year affair, it was nails in his coffin. He was already toast after all the unanswered harassment accusations. Following the latest disclosures, true or not, it’s clear that no matter how long he held on, he was just a dead candidate talking. The allegations would be our entire focus.
       Why? Let’s spell it out: S-E-X. It’s one thing to gloss over policy shallowness and other boring substance, but we just cannot, nor do we want to, shy away from nosiness about every detail of who’s doing what or who’s done the deed and with whom. Or tried to.
       It doesn’t have to be workplace propositions, inappropriate language or the other allegations of brutish behavior. This is merely a claim of doing it on the side. 
       In a somewhat-puzzling statement that failed to deny the specifics, Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, decried coverage of “private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public.”
       First of all, let’s thank Mr. Wood for sharing his opinion, which surely is motivated by personal feeling and not the billable hours he’s charging. Sorry, though; it is a proper subject of inquiry.
       We can all moan that the obsession with scurrilous behavior distracts from the truly important problems, but we lap up every smutty detail.
       And, of course, many conservatives are charging “liberal conspiracy.” Never mind that we all devoted massive amounts of attention a couple of presidencies ago to the adventures of Bill Clinton, proven and unproven.

       I spent years covering Paula Jones’ accusations about then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton and how he behaved with her in a Little Rock hotel room on May 8, 1991. That was just the opening act. The investigation into his quickies with Monica Lewinsky kept me totally occupied for more than a year after the chief executive of the United States uttered those historic words: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
       We explored every bit of material there was in that story, up to and including exactly what was on Ms. Lewinsky’s dress (what a struggle it was coming up with euphemisms and also keeping a straight face). 
       Clinton got impeached over that, but avoided removal from office, no thanks to the GOP leaders who were pushing hard to bring down his presidency. It probably should be noted that one of them was none other than House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was engineering the takedown while cheating on his second wife with his now third.
       If we are going to make an issue out of Cain’s alleged infidelity, then reviewing Newt Gingrich’s admitted dalliances and three marriages certainly is valid.
       The issue will always get our juices flowing, if for no other reason than those of us who claim we’d prefer more weighty stuff secretly prefer to be titillated. A valid question now is how Cain’s troubles might affect the other candidates, in particular Gingrich, who is the latest non-Romney flavor-of-the-month.
       Two plausible theories: This will clear the way for Newt or the potboiling sleaze might splatter on him. Personally, I had chosen not to write about his smarmy past, but now it is fair game in this foul game of politics. 
       © 2011 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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