Twenty years ago Clarence Thomas seemed headed for certain confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. Anti-abortion activists were upset since they were certain that Roe v Wade would be appealed and Thomas would vote to overturn it. Something had to be done to stop his confirmation.
Acting on behalf of the NOW and other women's groups, Senators Kennedy and Metzenbaum leaked secret testimony from the judiciary panel. It seemed that a former employee of Thomas's had made accusations of sexual harassment. The committee had dismissed them. There was no corroborative evidence and the employee had felt comfortable enough working with Thomas to follow him to a different job. Never the less, the accusations were leaked and, in an unprecedented action, the witness was brought back to testify before the entire Senate (an the nation on TV). When Thomas's turn came he called it a "high tech lynching".
Thomas was qualified to be on the court so this was an attempt to "Bork" him. The term comes from a prior confirmation battle. As with Thomas, the goal was to keep a qualified candidate off of the bench because of his expected vote on abortion. In Robert Bork's case, he was unfairly portrayed as being outside the mainstream.
Thomas was a victim of a decades old stereotype that black men should be feared because they have a stronger sex drive. In the racist South, black men were often lynched on the slightest hint that they might have touched a white woman.
Nearly a decade later, President Clinton had sex with a young intern in the White House. Conservatives wanted to know where the outrage was? Feminists admitted that the outrage over Thomas had all been show. One feminist leader was quoted as sayign that she would be willing to give oral sex to Clinton for keeping abortion legal.
But, the Thomas accusations dramatically changed the definition of sexual harassment. Previously it meant a supervisor pressuring a subordinate for sex using threats of being fired or offers of promotion. After the Thomas confirmation, it meant anything that could make an employee uncomfortable. Some women complained about men engaging in locker-room behavior in their presence. Other women complained about men stopping this behavior when the women got close. There was no clear-cut standard for behavior.
That is the period that Herman Cain is accused of harassing women. The fact that the restaurant association he worked for paid settlements means little. With a complete lack of standards, accusations were impossible to fight. All accusations were treated as valid. The only standard was that a woman felt uncomfortable. The fact that she filed a complaint was proof that she felt uncomfortable. It appears that in Cain's case, the complaints were filed and settled without him even being aware.
Which brings us back to the image of the sexually threatening black male being used against a conservative. If this sort of accusation had been brought against Barack Obama, the accusers would have been labeled racists. As with Clarence Thomas, the goal is not to enlighten, it is to disqualify by any means.