Cain needs 
to open up

The global economic picture darkens by the hour as Europe struggles to contain a spiraling debt crisis, while the U.S. Congress watches the clock on an impending deadline for our own fiscal rescue. Yet all eyes are on the unfolding drama of a GOP presidential candidate, waiting to see if the delightful story of Herman Cain will meet an ugly end.

Cain’s improbable rise to the top in the Republican presidential race has been based mostly on his blunt and affable personality and his record as a problem-solving businessman, yet he has failed the first true test of his campaign, calling into question his ability not only to solve the nation’s worst problems but even to resolve his own. Engulfed in a political scandal he surely knew would surface, Cain has been less than direct, offering conflicting responses to questions of sexual allegations two former female co-workers filed against him when they worked at the National Restaurant Association. 

As a man credited with a knack for remembering names, it is hard to believe Cain is fuzzy on serious challenges to his management such as harassment allegations, be they from 12 years ago or 20. But in his wrap-around-the-clock television tour this week Cain has blamed his memory for various versions of the truth. He asserted the allegations are baseless after some recollection of the incidents, but now that one woman wants to be released from her confidentiality agreement to come forward with her version of the truth, Cain isn’t so eager to clear the air.

“I can’t answer that now,” Cain said when asked Tuesday on Fox News Channel whether he would urge the restaurant association to permit the woman to speak of the incident and subsequent settlement. Cain insisted there are “legal implications if the National Restaurant Association waives that,” and that he couldn’t provide a definitive answer until he consulted with attorneys.

Too bad Cain hadn’t thought of this and all other implications during the 10-day heads-up he had before the story broke. When asked why he had allowed this to become a public-relations disaster, Cain said on Fox that he indeed could have been better prepared with a response but that he was the one, and not his staff, who made a “conscious decision” not to “go chasing anonymous accusations.”

Cain, however, has chosen not to distance himself from supporters indulging in baseless accusations. Americans for Herman Cain, a super-PAC, sent out a letter calling the uproar a “high-tech lynching” and stating that the left was trying to destroy Cain just as it attempted to do with Clarence Thomas. The letter called for conservatives to “stand up against those who would like to take down any black man who stands up for conservative values.”

Given a chance to disagree with the race-card crowd, Cain took a pass. “I believe this answer is yes,” he said on Fox when asked if race had anything to do with the revelations of the harassment allegations and the subsequent firestorm. Then he added, “But we do not have any evidence to support it.”

Cain’s success as a businessman and as a came-from-nowhere presidential candidate is a quintessential story of American opportunity. He has given people hope in a hopeless time — that hard work breeds success, that a businessman can rebuild the American economy like he rebuilt corporations and that an outsider might come turn our dysfunctional government upside down and make it work again. 

What Cain has sold from the start is the kind of candor and honesty people can expect from an un-politician. To win, he better stop parsing and start telling it like it is.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.