Is the Cain Scandal Worse Than Newt’s?

Infidelity takes many forms, whether Ginger White or Freddie Mac

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Mark Blinch / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain listens to moderators at the end of the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Mich., on Nov. 9.

Politicians are not shy people. It takes a certain arrogance to wake up, yawn, and say to the wife, “Yes, I should be the Leader of the Free World.” It is also the case that arrogant people are often the most interesting among us. Nobody earns arrogance — but arrogance might make it possible to do extraordinary things.

So let’s remove the stigma of arrogance; in fact, some find it sexy. Herman Cain’s “friend” Ginger White had the 411 on Cain: “Very arrogant in a playful sometimes way. Very, ah — Herman Cain loves Herman Cain.” Many supporters simply find Cain charming.

So what’s the problem?

There’s arrogant. And there’s delusional.

It is inconceivable that Ginger White wouldn’t have popped out of Cain’s closet, and worrisome that Cain would think he is surrounded by a Force Field that renders the inconvenient invisible. But it isn’t unusual.

If extramarital affairs were disqualifying events for the Presidency, JFK would never have graced the Pantheon. By Ginger’s account, this was a consensual, grown up, “uncomplicated” relationship — though, as is so often the case, because it makes affairs safer (one person is less likely to rat out the other) there was a power imbalance. Ginger White, a single mom, seems to have had years of financial struggles. Still, a vacation in someone’s arms is always a lovely respite from life’s woes. I’m far more bothered by the allegations by former employees against Cain of sexual harassment — and the settlements.

(MORE: The Message Behind Cain’s Message)

Cain’s campaign crew is now weighing the options, and he, undoubtedly, is mollifying a cranky spouse (who may well have sensed that those 4:26 am phone calls weren’t pizza orders but didn’t exactly want them broadcast in primetime.) In the usual way of philanderers, Cain is blaming Ginger White for his new raft of problems; her announcement has “taken a toll on my wife and my family.” Not that his calls to his “friend,” averaging every other day over four months, had anything to do with it. It was ever thus.

Cain could gut this one out, apologize, spin out a narrative of sin and redemption, and carry on, though it is possible that more women will pop out of the cake. The Redemption Narrative seems to have worked miracles for Newt Gingrich (though not on current campaign time.) He has roller-coastered from Lutheran to Southern Baptist to Catholic, but no one minds a little faith-seeking during those Dark Nights of the Soul, a.k.a. extra-marital affairs. Gingrich is now being held up as a model of “courage and conviction” in an endorsement from the New Hampshire Union Leader.

But what about Newt’s secret fling with Freddie Mac? Gingrich’s coverup — and outright lies — about the nature of his eight-year, $1.6 million consulting gig for federally backed mortgage giant are far more disturbing, and raise far more questions about “character” than Ginger White does. Gingrich publicly blamed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for massive distortions in the home loan market. And in my favorite display of delusion, Gingrich went so far as to announce that Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank should be jailed for having ties with Freddie and Fannie lobbyists. Of which he was clearly one.

The Force Field that makes politicians think their love affairs are invisible also makes them think lucrative, unholy dalliances will disappear. But Gingrich will stick with that good old-fashioned 9-9-9 solution: nine parts charm, nine parts arrogance, nine parts tenacity. I wonder if Freddie and Fannie have deleted their phone records yet.