Herman Cain’s alleged sexual transgressions have received extensive media coverage, satisfying the public’s obsession with scandals in today’s personality-dominated politics. It is likely that the latest scandal has killed Cain’s chances as a serious candidate, because it destroys the “everyman” image he has been capitalizing on thus far.
In today’s politics, the personality of the individual is the focus. Media scholars like John Thompson believe the growth of personality politics in the recent century is likely aligned with the decline of class or political membership. Mainstream political parties must compete more vigorously for political support and can no longer rely on their traditional left-right positions to garner a support base. There might be several issues where Democrats and Republicans have clearly distinguishing stances, but how much of the current candidate’s policies ally historically to their party’s stance, and how much of it depends really on the issue of the moment?
Political parties thus turn to representatives to articulate their policies in pithy, sound bite-worthy aphorisms. Just think of Cain’s “9-9-9” economic proposal, and how lacking in substance the policy has been criticized to be. Alongside the increasing scrutiny on candidate’s private lives, the political campaign today is built on candidates’ character. Scandals merely highlight the importance of trust in selecting candidates. The ruckus raised by scandals reaffirms the fact that the average voter supports a candidate more because we believe in their personal integrity and less based on the issues they represent.
Herman Cain has built his image around the image of the everyman American, an embodiment of the American dream. Through his entrepreneurship, Cain managed to sell the idea that with a strong “work ethic and character” anyone can achieve success, even by working from “the ground up.”
Cain’s transgressions hurt his publicity because they attacks the family-loving, hard-working persona that his campaign has carefully nurtured for the public.
Whether or not the accusations are true, these sorts of charges tend to stick — a it is a case of guilty until proven innocent for many of the candidates. In 1988, Democratic candidate Gary Hart challenged reporters to scrutinize his private life for womanizing, and they produced picture after picture of his dalliances, eventually forcing the frontrunner to drop out of the race. A reason why the pictures were so damning was perhaps because Hart was running partly on his strong morals and family values. For Cain, the allegations could have the effect of erasing his hard-working jolly grandfather image, lumping him in the same category as yet another sleazebag politician.
For a candidate that has been banking more on personality than substance, Cain’s chances are likely to evaporate as more allegations come forth and the media zooms in on his indiscretion.
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