Beautyshop: Comeback For Cain After Affair Charge?

The Beautyshop women discuss Republican Herman Cain's reassessment of his White House bid, and news of a 200-pound third grader who was placed in foster care after officials said his mother wasn't doing enough to control his weight. Host Michel Martin hears from two political bloggers and the head of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we go to get a fresh cut on some of the week's news.

Today, we'll talk about the latest controversy surrounding Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. Surprise, there's a controversy. You know, he's been accused of sexually harassing several women who worked for him when he was the head of a trade association. Now, another woman says she had a consensual, 13-year-long affair with him.

We'll also talk about a situation in Cleveland, where an 8-year-old boy was taken from his family and put into foster care because county officials determined that his mother was not doing enough to control his weight. The little boy weighs 200 pounds.

And then, there's Tyler Perry. He cast reality TV star Kim Kardashian in his latest film, "The Marriage Counselor."

We're going to talk about all this with Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report; she's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Michelle Bernard is president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy; that's an independent, right-of-center think tank. And Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of TheWiseLatinaClub.com.

Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for joining us.

MICHELLE BERNARD: Thank you.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having us, Michel.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Yeah, great to be here.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. We have to start with Herman Cain.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I don't know whether that...

CARY: Where else?

MARTIN: I don't know whether that delights you...

HURTADO: We have to stop meeting like this.

MARTIN: That's right. I don't know whether that delights or repulses you, but we must go there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: On Monday, his campaign was rocked - again - by an Atlanta businesswoman named Ginger White, who said that they had an affair that lasted 13 years. This is her on "Good Morning America" today.

GINGER WHITE: It was a very casual affair that - Herman flew me to - on several trips. I went on several trips with Herman. One particular trip was the Mike Tyson-Holyfield fight in Las Vegas. You know, I can't make this stuff up.

MARTIN: Now, you know, he tried to get ahead of the story before Ms. White came out publicly. He gave an interview with CNN. Here he is, speaking with anchor Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER: Was this an affair?

HERMAN CAIN: No. It was not.

BLITZER: There was no sex?

CAIN: No.

BLITZER: None?

CAIN: No.

BLITZER: And if this woman says there is, she's lying? Is that what you're...

CAIN: Well, Wolf, let's see what the story's going to be. I don't want to get into, you know, being pinned down on some things until we see what the story's going to be.

MARTIN: Well, that certainly clears it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: Please, what does that mean?

MARTIN: Mary Kate, our Republican here, your analysis of both his conduct here, from what we know publicly, and what this means for his candidacy.

CARY: Well, after the last time I was on your show, Michel, I wrote a blog called, I Am Done Defending Herman Cain.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: Here, here.

CARY: And it got a lot of hits.

MARTIN: Agreeing or disagreeing?

CARY: Agree, agree - that most women I know are finished with Herman Cain and now, I think most conservatives I know are finished with Herman Cain. I think what makes this different than last time is, this is not sexual harassment. This sounds like it was consensual. And what makes this different from last time is, last time, it took him 10 days to respond. This time, he came out ahead of the story, which makes you a little suspicious.

The fact that he wouldn't say whether she was lying or not - last time, he said they were all lying. I think where there's smoke, there's fire. I feel bad for Mrs. Cain. He, at one point, said it was up to her whether the campaign would continue, and I assume that - I think we know what her answer's going to be. We'll see. Give him another day or two, but I don't see how he recovers from this.

MARTIN: Michelle Bernard?

BERNARD: You know, I watched the quote-unquote accuser, as he calls her - as Mr. Cain calls her. And, you know, I kept thinking to myself, I'm a lawyer. Your husband is a lawyer. I'm sitting back down, thinking, if I'm watching her from the perspective of a jury, she looks honest, she looks credible, she looks hurt, she looks like she was an aggrieved woman who maybe was in love with Herman Cain.

And then my very next thought is, what is it with these public men continually behaving so badly, and thinking that no one will care and no one will find them out? And we see it particularly - with white and black, and Democratic and Republican candidates for political office. And you have to ask yourself, what is it about this type of ego that thinks that I can, I can reap this kind of havoc on my family; be a family values candidate, regardless of political affiliation; and have a mistress for a large part of their marriage, and not expect anyone to talk about it?

MARTIN: Can I ask you this? Viviana, I haven't forgotten you. But Michelle, you and I are both African-American - if it's OK that I'm pointing that out - but people who see you regularly on shows on MSNBC and CNN, for example, will certainly know that.

The race piece is interesting to me because initially, when these charges were leveled against him, he and people defending him said oh, they're trying to bring a black conservative down, you know. And I'm just interested - but here, first of all, here's a guy who came out initially and said that racism plays no role in American life anymore, in public life; and if you don't have a job it's your fault, it's your problem, you know, no structural barriers here, thank you so much. But then when he's attacked, he and his supporters say oh, it's because people are trying to keep me, as a black conservative, from playing a role in this country's public life.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And, of course, as you pointed out with Bill Clinton, who was a Democrat - here's, you know, here's a guy who - there was a record of people who had had affairs playing a role in public life. But I'm just asking, I guess what I want to talk to you about because you are so insightful on these issues, the role of race in this conversation. Is there any or - do you think race is part of it at all, or do you feel that that was just his Hail Mary play?

BERNARD: I think that if you are black, period, race will always somehow be a factor in everything that you do. I am somebody who subscribes to the old-fashioned belief that you've got to be better. You've got to work harder. You have to, you know, you have to hold yourself to an even higher moral standard. And, you know, and from the perspective of an African-American woman, when we see things like this happen within our community, one of the things that me - and I know a lot of my friends will say to ourselves well, what was he thinking about?

You know, Marion Barry with the quote-unquote, the B set me up. Well, you are African-American. You were smoking crack. You were having an affair. Somebody was going to look into it. And I think that that is the same thing for Herman Cain. What disturbs me is when we find African-Americans that are right of center, that say that there is no such thing as race discrimination until they actually become the quote-unquote, victims of discrimination - if they are, you know, frankly, being discriminated against.

Now, what Herman Cain has done, allegations of sexual harassment, those are fair game for anybody who is, you know, who is running for office. That's not racism. He's a presidential candidate.

MARTIN: That's how it is. Viviana? Your thoughts about this?

HURTADO: I think one of the problems that you're seeing here is that in political life, whether you're Democratic or Republican, black or white, Latino, there is a need to have to define yourself personally as having these ideal relationships - marriage - and that appeals very much to a certain kind of primary voter; certainly, voters in general. But the problem, of course, is that the focus is on that and not on substantive issues, for example, politics. Oh, but wait, in the case of Herman Cain, when he started talking about Libya. Oops. Or should I say, huh? Or when he started talking about immigration, all of a sudden you get really whacky platforms about, you know, electrified fences and alligator-filled moats.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: And so, you know, should personal lives be part of political discourse? I think so.

MARTIN: Yeah, what's your thought? Yeah - yes, your answer is yes.

HURTADO: I think it should be, as long as the substantive policy and politics is there.

MARTIN: So anyway, do you think any new ground has been broken here with this whole Herman Cain issue? And it's also worth pointing out that, you know, Newt Gingrich, who has been rising in the polls, married for the third time, has a history - an acknowledged history - of extramarital relationships, particularly when he was speaker of the House. So this is not new news. He's talked about this publicly and his conduct publicly, and yet he's - now he's rising in the polls. So has any - have we learned anything new, in the course of this campaign, about that?

BERNARD: Well, can I just add real quickly?

MARTIN: Michelle?

BERNARD: Newt Gingrich is a repentant sinner. That is the difference between he and Herman Cain. With Herman Cain, all we have is it didn't happen; they are liars; you know, I'm going to stay away from it. Things might look different for him if he comes out and does a mea culpa - I am so sorry for what I did.

MARTIN: So we need to see how this plays out. OK. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're in the Beauty Shop. We're getting a fresh cut on issues in the news from some prominent and insightful women analysts. With us are Michelle Bernard, that's who was speaking just now, Mary Kate Cary and Viviana Hurtado.

Let's shift to a story out of Cleveland. An 8-year-old boy who weighs 200 pounds was taken from his family and placed in foster care last month when Cuyahoga County officials decided that his mother was not doing enough to manage his weight. I think I mentioned that he's 200 pounds. The local paper, the Plain Dealer, quotes a spokeswoman from the Department of Children and Family Services saying: This child's problem was so severe that we had to take custody.

The mother of the child has acknowledged that her son has a weight problem, but she said she was doing everything she could to make the appropriate lifestyle changes.Mary Kate, I'm going to you first on this 'cause you're a parent.

CARY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: You are passionately involved with the issue of obesity and diabetes. And I just wanted to ask your thoughts about this. You're on the board of the Childhood Obesity Institute at Children's Hospital. You have some experience with this...

CARY: I should correct you. I was on a different board at Children's that worked closely with the Obesity Institute.

MARTIN: That worked closely with the Obesity Institute.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: Partly because childhood obesity is such a large factor in diabetes. Although that's not an issue for you; you have a close family member who is dealing with this issue.

CARY: Yeah. My oldest daughter has Type I diabetes, which is different than Type II diabetes.

MARTIN: Yeah. Obesity is not the issue. I'm sorry, obesity is not the issue...

CARY: Right. For Type II, it is. Right.

MARTIN: ...for your child. OK. But your thoughts about this, if I may?

CARY: My take on it was that - one thing that got sort of lost in the story here was that the Cuyahoga County people had been working with this family for 20 months. And to me, that says there's more to this story. And I think on the face, it's so ridiculous that they came in and took this child away. And if you think about it from the boy's point of view, the only way he's going to get to see his mom is if he loses weight. You know, how is that going to screw that kid up, you know? So I kind of think it's an extreme case, that there must be more to this story.

I also think that if we start getting into this being a common thing, if you consider obesity an imminent danger, which is usually what the standard is for taking kids away from - like if they were starving the child, that would be imminent danger. Overfeeding the child, what is that? So you get into a very slippery slope argument pretty quickly here of, well, 200 pounds today; 175 is not great, either. Well, what about 150? you know. And so all of a sudden the government gets more and more involved in this. And I don't trust the government, necessarily, to make that call. For some kids, it could be genetics. For some kids, it could be related to a separate syndrome, you know. There's - it just makes me nervous.

There was a thing last week that got a lot of press. "Saturday Night Live" did a thing on it, that pizza is a vegetable - the pizza sauce. That's just one more example of the government. Why would we trust the people who are in charge of school lunches to be involved in the obesity issue? So the whole thing makes me nervous. There's more to this story.

MARTIN: Does anyone disagree with that? Because if not, we'll move on. Because if not - I saw a lot of nodding heads here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: I agree with Mary Kate.

BERNARD: I mean I completely, completely agree with her.

MARTIN: OK.

BERNARD: Something's fishy.

MARTIN: Something's fishy here.

BERNARD: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we'll keep an eye on this story, and we'll keep everyone posted on what we find out. So, I'm sorry, we have to talk about Tyler Perry. You know, he's certainly one of the most - if not the most - successful African-American directors and certainly a very prominent figure in Hollywood, in terms of the profitability of his films. May not be winning awards for their artistic merit but certainly, very profitable at the box office. He has cast Kim Kardashian - and don't act like you don't know who she is...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...don't act like - just don't even try it - in his new film, "The Marriage Counselor." You know, she's been in the news, of course, because her so-called marriage lasted only 72 days, just long enough to get the "E" special, you know, about chronicling the marriage and the wedding ceremony on the air for days and days on end. So Viviana, the blogosphere has been going crazy on this. Tell me why is that.

HURTADO: Well, the thing about it is, Kim Kardashian is known for doing very little. She hasn't invented anything. She hasn't, you know, even designed a handbag, or anything like that. She's famous for just being Kim Kardashian, and for a lot of us we don't like who she represents. Tyler...

MARTIN: Well, let's just say she first came to fame because of a sex tape.

HURTADO: Right. And then the Playboy spread.

MARTIN: The Playboy spread. A sex tape that went viral, and then a Playboy spread. And then her mother engineered this reality show about...

HURTADO: Right.

MARTIN: ...you know, "Kicking it with the Kardashians," and her relationships with various men and, you know, Reggie, football star Reggie Bush, who then dropped her. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

HURTADO: Right. And for someone who comes from the school of hard knocks, I still think she's famous for being nothing. But, so fine.

MARTIN: So what do you think?

HURTADO: I guess the thing is, Tyler Perry is a really savvy businessman. As you said, he's an incredibly successful Hollywood producer and actor. Really brilliant, and he's managed to build an empire. This is an opportunity for him to continue to grow it and to maybe cross it over. I guess the issue that I have is, yeah, is it an opportunity to send a message about a woman's self-discovery journey and the choices, good and bad, in life? Perhaps. But does it also mean that it's not necessarily going to be the best role model in Kim Kardashian? That true - that, too. And I guess if Tyler Perry is looking for somebody else to be in his movie or reality show, I would love to.

MARTIN: You know, one of his producers - he wrote about this on his blog, and said that one of his producers showed me pictures that his daughter had taken of several hundred kids lined up around the corner to get into a Kardashian store. You know, they have a line at, you know, one of the large, big-box retailers where they're selling like, handbags and clothes and stuff. And he said that I thought, what better person? She, literally, has millions of young people following her. And I thought, and still do think, that it would be very responsible of her to be a part of this film, to have the young people that look up to her to see her in a film that's about what happens in life when you make the wrong choices.

You know where this links to the Herman Cain issue previously is, what does her personal life have to do with her worthiness to be in this film? That's kind of what I'm interested in, is who - you know, what's the relevance? You know, it's not like you're, you know, you're not under subpoena to see her in this film. Michelle, what do you think about it?

BERNARD: I say kudos to Tyler Perry on the decision he made. I love Tyler Perry. I love the movies that he does. I know that there's a lot of acrimony in the African-American community about stereotypes in his movies, but they always have a positive message. Here is an African-American man who - talk about pulling yourself up from the bootstraps; he has come from nothing. From sexual abuse, from being abused by his father, to building an empire and being in a position where he can employ, literally, thousands of African-Americans - and anybody else that he wants to employ. I think it's a positive message that he's trying to send in the movie. And who cares what happens in her personal life? He's crossing over.

MARTIN: Final thought on you, Mary Kate Cary.

CARY: I read the blog, and scrolled through the 35 pages of comments that followed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: And I noticed one thing that was missing in Tyler Perry's explanation - was any discussion of Kim Kardashian as an actress. Can she act? I don't know. I mean, should we go see the movie and figure it out?

MARTIN: Are you going to go? Are you going to go?

CARY: I don't know. I might just out of curiosity. I'm not a big fan of hers. I think she's one, big teachable moment for kids, you know.

MARTIN: Which is what? What's the lesson?

CARY: Don't do sex tapes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, snap.

CARY: And rent at Red Box - $1, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: Pay-per-view.

MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a columnist for U.S. News & World Report. She's a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at theWiseLatinaClub.com. And Michelle Bernard is president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. That's an independent, right-of-center think tank. They were all kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studios for the Beauty Shop. Ladies, thank you so much.

CARY: Great to be here.

BERNARD: Thank you.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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