What this whole flap concerning Herman Cain is all about is what U.S. conservatism has always been about: sexism, racism and class warfare. All of these were used to try to defeat the unions in the early (and not so early) days of the labor movement. They were used to keep women "in their places" and non-whites in the back of the bus. Remember: it was the self-described conservatives who opposed the civil rights movement, the women's equality movement, and every other attempt to achieve social justice. Name a cause that is anti-people, anti-equal opportunity and anti-equal justice and it is a cause the conservatives have supported. They loved poll taxes, they refused to condemn apartheid, they have been and still are soft on fascism (corporatization of the state) and "authoritarian" regimes: it wasn't the liberals who pushed to finance the military dictators and "disappearers" in Central and South America.
Rush Limbaugh, who far from being an outlier, is the voice of conservatism in the U.S., sneers at the concept of sexual harrassment -- so does Fox TV. The Republican debate audience thinks that it's fine for Cain to refer to Nancy Pelosi as "Princess Pelosi" -- the same way they applaud Perry's record of executions in Texas.
These things are not isolated, or unusual or unrepresentative. The conservative propaganda machine has determined that there is enough sexism, racism and intolerance remaining in America that it is worth speaking and pandering to it in order to eke out the extra votes needed to win close elections. And, of course, they are correct.
Left to their own devices, people would vote to keep their air clean, their roads paved, and their family members safe from predators. Americans want Social Security to be there for them, as well as Medicare and equal-opportunity employment. Since this is the natural and normal state of things, it takes an extra measure of cynical nastiness to try to get them to sneer at the very things they deeply want. It is precisely this nastiness that the American "conservative" movement is all about.
Shame on them.