So, the circus is in town again. Yet another politician, facing yet another set of sexual misbehavior allegations. Whodathunkit?
In America, this kind of spectacle traces its roots to at least as far back as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Whether it’s titillating (two of the Kennedy brothers and Marilyn Monroe), scandalous (the other Kennedy brother and Mary Jo Kopechne, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky) or creepy from all sides (Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, Jack and Jeri Ryan, John Edwards and Rielle Hunter), we can’t seem to get enough of politicians and the illicit, semi-licit or just plain salacious.
This week’s peep show feature flick: The panoply of sexual harassment allegations leveled against Republican presidential aspirant Herman Cain. The (potentially) 270-Electoral-Vote-Question is whether or not Cain’s an abusive lecher who parlayed his position as CEO of the National Restaurant Association into opportunities for sexual gratification by conditioning women’s employment, promotion, etc. on whether or not he got that gratification.
Do I know the answer to that question? No, I don’t. But in the spirit of O.J. Simpson’s “tell all, without admitting guilt” book, “If I Did It”, I’d like to take a swing at the implications of the answer being “yes, he did.”
Folks, if he did it, why should any of us feign surprise?
Abuse of personal power and pursuit of political power are just slightly different expressions of the same pathology. In both cases, the intent is to achieve one’s goals through the exercise of authority and the threat of punishment.
Furthermore, it’s not just that power corrupts, it’s that corruption demands feeding. Once corrupted by power, it’s only natural for the powerful to seek ever more power, the better to give wider and more satisfying play to the corruption.
That a sexual harasser (or any other corrupt or rapacious person) might seek public office is something we should find no more surprising than that someone who likes to run long distances might enter a marathon, or that someone who likes food might visit a restaurant.
In the ongoing debate between anarchists and advocates of political government, the latter side loves to play the trump card: People are corruptible and rapacious and must be reined in. The argument goes back most famously to Thomas Hobbes and his “war of all against all,” against which he posits the restraining power of the “sovereign.”
The anarchist rejoinder to this argument is that the worst possible answer to corruptibility and rapacity is centralization of power in one institution, an institution inherently attractive to — and vulnerable to — hijacking by the corrupt and rapacious.
Within the context of modern American politics, the measure of Herman Cain’s sin — and of the system’s inherent unworthiness of our loyalty — lies not in whether or not he did it, but in the fact that whether or not he did it, he let himself get caught up in the question of whether or not he did it. And the measure of our gullibility is that we continue to tolerate systems of governance which reward the behavior and only penalize its public disclosure.
• Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society.