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Cain's best damage control: Release everything

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 7:17 AM EST, Fri November 11, 2011
Herman Cain speaks during a debate Wednesday at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
Herman Cain speaks during a debate Wednesday at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The litany of politicians behaving badly is a long one, says Gloria Borger
  • Many have survived, but the verdict is up to the voters, she says
  • She says Cain's best strategy would be to seek release of all the details
  • Borger: Bill Clinton was able to survive a damaging scandal

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360," "The Situation Room," "John King USA" and "State of the Union."

Washington (CNN) -- When you consider the array of public men who have been forced, in one way or another, to come clean on their bad behavior, the list is not insubstantial: a president (Bill Clinton), presidential candidates (John Edwards, Gary Hart), governors (Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer), senators (John Ensign, David Vitter). And that's just the top tier.

The bar has been set -- and it's awfully low.

And by the way, many of these men managed to crawl right under that bar and survive, even thrive.

Eventually, they found there was just one way out -- owning up to their own shortcomings. Sure, it may have been due to legal pressure. Or political reality. Or both. But some discovered the public can be forgiving, especially if it believes you have something important to offer to the nation. Just ask Bill Clinton, now serving as philanthropist to the world.

So now comes Herman Cain, accused of sexual harassment by four women. He calls the charges baseless and defends his integrity. His political campaign and supporters have gone into full damage-control mode, scrutinizing the women. All predictable -- and reflexive -- enough.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

But here's the rub: Cain also tells us that the National Restaurant Association investigated the charges against him and found them to be "baseless." If he wants to get this behind him, how about getting the facts out? Give the association's board permission to release the results of their internal investigation, if there was a formal inquiry.

Then, as they say, the truth will out.

And there's another plus: The partisans and the interest groups will have to start dealing with the facts. And the public can decide for itself.

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It's not as if this predicament is new to us. Recall back in the day when Clinton was in the middle of the Lewinsky mess. Republicans were (rightly) outraged, demanding his resignation or impeachment. Feminist groups, by and large, remained largely on the sidelines or supportive of Clinton -- because he was, um, not a sexual harasser. Oh, and yes, he was good on their issues.

Now the tables have turned. Feminist groups are outraged by the charges against Cain and lots of Republican partisans are defending him, choosing to level their scrutiny on the women instead. (We've come a long way, baby, in that some conservative women's groups are criticizing Cain's I-don't-recall defense.)

Conservative CNN contributor Bill Bennett sees the hypocrisy of those who raised the red flag about Clinton, but not Cain. "For we who led the charge against Bill Clinton on a number of related issues to continue to blame the media or other campaigns or say it simply doesn't matter makes us the hypocrites as well," he wrote on CNN.com. He is, of course, right.

And it is exactly what we are seeing, much of it from the Cain campaign itself.

When declarations of innocence do not seem to be enough, there's the change-the-subject tack: How about fingering a leaker, say from Rick Perry's staff? When that's denied, back off. Then take a turn, and start decrying "anonymous" charges. When the charges are on the record, take on the accuser. And when all else fails, blame the media. And the liberal "Democrat machine."

Ah, it takes me back to the days when Monica Lewinsky was whispered to be a "stalker" and Hillary Clinton was taking on the "right wing conspiracy."

But here's what we learned in that case: The fact that Monica inappropriately bared her underwear to the president did not excuse his behavior. And the fact that Hillary was right about those who were "out to get" Clinton does not mean he was in the clear. It's just not that simple.

The voters will figure it all out, as always. The bar may be set low for the politicians, but the public somehow manages to rise above it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

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