11.15.11

Gloria Cain: Sex Accusations Make No Sense in 'Old School' Marriage

In her long-awaited TV sit-down, Herman Cain’s wife describes the GOP 2012 contender as “a protector of women” who couldn’t have sexually harassed anyone—but leaves some questions unanswered.

Is Gloria Cain cute as a button, or what? Smart. Spunky. Likable. Charmingly unscripted. Seemingly earnest. All the things you like to see in a political spouse.

Gloria even has that exasperated-wife-talking-smack-about-her-tiresome-but-ultimately-irresistible-husband schtick down to a degree that makes Michelle Obama’s Barack-is-stinky-in-the-morning admissions look pale and lifeless. Herman talks too much, Gloria tells us. And, for a year or so after they first met, he was an incorrigible pest. “I wasn’t interested in him,” Gloria saucily told Greta Van Susteren in tonight’s much-awaited sit-down. But Herman, God bless him, just would not stop calling her and hanging around trying to get her attention. “Almost like a stalker,” Greta later quipped.

Let us put aside for a moment the wisdom of this particular trip down memory lane under the circumstances. While everyone loves a good story of boy-chases-girl that ends in a 40-plus-year marriage, the image of Herman as a guy who won’t take no for an answer and assumes everyone desires his attention might rub some people the wrong way.

But that was only part of what made the heretofore enigmatic Mrs. Cain’s appearance so fantastic. She wandered off script and back again to say things that could either be taken out of context or, alternatively, be seen as making no sense whatsoever. Like the anecdote about Herman’s long-standing relationship with “a little Christian lady” in his office with whom he liked to chat about Bible verses—a closeness that proved for Gloria that he couldn’t possibly have been coming on to other women in the backs of cars around that same time, because to do so “he would have to have a split personality.”

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Gloria Cain says she "didn't see it coming."

Presumably, Gloria meant to assert that one cannot sit around debating scripture on the one hand and groping former and/or current employees on the other. But, as in a number of instances, her story initially seemed right on target—only to veer a little to one side and narrowly miss the mark.

All of which is to say that for the most part Gloria Cain was thoroughly, refreshingly, delightful in tonight’s gabfest with Greta (who, incidentally, looked so awkward throughout the entire segment that you’d have thought it was her husband in the hot seat).

But the one line of Gloria’s that seemed to go to the heart of the interview was when she was trying to explain to Van Susteren how she just knew that these accusations could not be true because Herman is so deeply, fundamentally “old school.”

Now, by “old school,” Mrs. Cain means a midcentury sort of gent who sees himself as “a protector of women.”

But as Mad Men (and its many imitators) has done so very much to remind us, those midcentury gents, while all so chivalrous with their wives, could be absolute cads when it came to secretaries or waitresses or the coat-check girls at the club. They kept their families neatly segregated from the rest of their day-to-day lives. And while divorce was out of the question, a little something on the side was not.

Listening to Mrs. Cain, it seems pretty clear that she and Herman have had a delightfully old-fashioned relationship in many ways—including her steering clear of his work life. She handled the kids while he toiled at the office. Even the role of disciplinarian often fell to her because, well, he was always traveling. As for his public life, Cain himself has talked about how Gloria stays out of the spotlight and under the radar, serving as his rock and his soothing center of gravity.

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Gloria Cain discusses how she found out about the allegations.

It is a lovely image. But it is an image of the sort of trusting, naive “little woman” that Mrs. Cain herself disparaged in tonight’s sit-down. And no matter how many times Gloria insisted that she is not that type of woman, she never offered any real reassurances of why she believes (and, by extension, why the rest of us should consider) Herman guiltless other than “I know him.”

While delivered with infectious spirit by Gloria, this is, in fact, the oldest spousal defense in the book—one that grows more meaningless with each passing scandal.

Watching the couple talk awkwardly together with Van Susteren at the end of the segment—surrounded by their kids and grandkids—the portrait was of two people who have long, and perhaps happily, led largely separate lives. Which is unlikely to answer the most burning question the voting public has about their “old school” marriage.