Herman’s March – as some strategists are coming to dub it – may be on tap as primary season hits the Southern states. As Cain rises in the polls, pundits think his nomination would light the South on fire bright enough to dwarf the fires of General Sherman (but this time, the fires of optimism and passion, not of hatred). How things have changed in just over a month!
Just about six weeks ago, I reviewed the debate at the Reagan Library in California and ruled that although I found pizza mogul Herman Cain’s affable and sharp witted banter enjoyable, I didn’t believe he was a serious contender, owing mostly to a total lack of experience in politics that would leave him unable to answer the tough questions. In fact, his first two debate appearances were very weak, most (including myself) thought. He got caught short of knowledge a number of times and stumbled through answers not related to his own platform of fiscal reform. Well…we’re learning something new about Mr. Cain. He learns quickly.
You can take this as a personal mea culpa. I fell for the same trap that we’ve been falling for in this country for many years. I had a twinge of assumed elitism in my view of what qualifies a man for the presidency. I thought you had to come from politics to understand the game well enough to play it and succeed while staying true to your ideology. I thought you had to be an expert on every aspect of American politics and policy to navigate them all with skill once you took office. And I thought you had to be polished and professional at all times in order to avoid a media crucifixion. As a friend of mine put it, when discussing both Cain and Bachmann – the President must be someone truly special. They must, essentially, be a Ph.D. in American Studies. Learned in history, international policy, economics, sociology and political science. I am now questioning my assumptions. Based on his handling of the media (and handle them, he has!), I am now uninterested in reasons to write him off and far more interested in understanding the man in greater detail.
With that in mind, I think we need to devote some time here on the Right Fans political blog to dissecting Cain’s pluses and minuses and getting to know the Hermanator a little better.
We’ll start with his personality and character (underrated parts of the presidency these days, with people preferring candidates that sound impressive to those who live impressive lives) and then move on to his stated positions on various issues. So what do we know about Herman Cain – the man?
For one thing, Cain is a bubbling optimist and an overtly friendly fellow in person. Reagan had that reputation, but those closest to him would tell you that although he was genuine and affectionate to his family, he was stern and stout-jawed even to his allies in government. He was more like a good Army general (fair and principled, but very demanding) than a father figure. Cain is a different kind of soul altogether. One wonders, in fact, whether he has the stomach to play dirty. He might even be compared in this regard to Gerald Ford. I’ve now viewed several hours worth of his speeches and interviews (everything I could find on him through Google and YouTube searches), read many excerpts from his book, and even checked out commentary pulled from his blog. While doesn’t pull punches when assailing the ideas of his political adversaries, he tends not to attack the PEOPLE as much as he attacks their ideas. And he usually does so with gentle (and often effective) humor, rather than the more popular acerbic satire found on the web today. I consider this a strong positive, but there is some room for wondering whether he will go after Obama (and his other adversaries on the left) with enough ferocity or try to take the high road and leave himself looking weaker than necessary. Since he was a successful CEO, I tend to doubt that this concern will verify, but we can’t know for sure until we see him in action for a bit longer.
But what cannot be doubted is the gallup poll information which reveals that Cain is the most well-liked person to run for a Republican office since these polls began in (wait for it) 1946 (!!). Yes…we liked Ike, but the people who know Cain have such a positive opinion of him personally that his positive intensity score (a measure of both general favorability and the intensity of the passion) now sits at 30…the next closest republican is…(drumroll)…Rick Santorum?? And his number is 18. YOWZA. Right now, he has a bit of a recognition problem, but his approach to this is to appear on every national TV broadcast that he can. In the last three weeks, he’s appeared 6 times on national newscasts, 18 times on cable news pundit programs, and another dozen times on interview/late night shows. He is selling his name HARD and rising in the polls as a result.
Not only does he appear to be a truly well-intentioned and friendly guy – likable to the core – but he doesn’t seem to play games and dissemble to get what he wants. I urge readers to check out his writings from the days before his candidacy. Read some of his blog posts…and there are a lot of them…close your eyes and just picture the man saying these words. It sounds not one iota different that what he’s saying now that he’s running. Perhaps a part of my skepticism comes from ignorance about his authenticity. You see…when a guy comes along in our political system who SEEMS to be genuine and positive and likable…I am looking for the skeletons in his closet. This is a zebra…not a horse. This is the one guy in modern American politics who really does just want to help America prosper…really believes that he is called to serve and that he should stick to his principles to get it done. This…is an honest politician. An oxymoron if the press is to be believed.
The first few times that Cain got caught short with a gotcha question, he stammered around looking for the right answer to cover for his lack of deep insight and looked bad doing it. Then he either had an epiphany or someone cornered him and made an alternative suggestion. He began playing to his strength. He’s a straight shooter and he’s going to use that tool to leverage American frustration with political gamesmanship. He was asked by a certain left-leaning NBC reporter whether he was ready for some gotcha questions (that phrase was literally used) and this was his response:
“I am ready for the gotcha questions – and they’re starting already – and that’s OK. When someone like you asks me who the President of Uzbecka-beckistan or wherever else, I’ll tell them ‘I don’t know that – do you?'” That’s right, folks – this guy plans to disarm the press by…ADMITTING that he is inexperienced and lacks knowledge in certain areas. And doing so with a sense of humor and humility that hasn’t been seen in American Politics in quite some time. Obviously, this style present the peril of making him look like a friendly village fool if he doesn’t demonstrate broad knowledge in enough areas to make his weaknesses seem less crucial. We don’t want a candidate who’s completely lacking knowledge in most key areas. BUT…changing your strategy for campaign resistance on the fly like that and doing it with style and charisma bodes well for his ability to adapt and grow as a leader. It also bodes well that he already has a team around his campaign with a wide variety of skills and accomplishments and that they are a very harmonious group, unlike, say, Newt Gingrich’s camp, which has imploded TWICE in the last year. It seems that Cain can work in groups and listen to advice. Perhaps his outsider status leaves him just humble enough to avoid the false belief that he’s got the right idea for every single problem.
Faithful…but not dogmatic
There can be no doubt that Cain is a very observant and active Christian. In fact, he’s on record as stating that he believes American to be a Christian nation (in custom, not by law, of course) and his book is filled with mentions of how his faith influenced his decision making – everything from how he experienced the arrival of a new child into his family to how he prepares to eat any meal with a prayer to why he chose to enter politics in the first place. However…it should also be noted that, in his own words, he doesn’t “wear [his] religion on [his] sleeve” and does not consider it a major campaign issue, other than that it defines his moral compass. Unlike Perry, he seems less driven to dogmatism and evangelism. I find the contrast between Perry’s religious observance and Cain’s to be rather striking. If Conservatives want a religious man in the White House again…Cain is a much less tempting media target and a much safer bet, in my view, though we are still in the discovery process and more may come to light as we get to know him better.
Just a Bit Cocky
As friendly and down to Earth as Cain tends to be, he does write with a certain personal flare that can come across as a bit on the overconfident side. When he talks about his policy, he can be so certain of the veracity of his claims that he manages not to answer some basic questions even his conservative base has. Questions, for example, like how the government would enforce a national 9% sales tax while at the same time, somehow exempting all existing goods (the tax would only apply to new items and to services) and refunding taxes paid by people below the poverty line (so…we’re going to have to keep a record of everything we buy now?). Questions like how he plans to get such a huge reform through Congress. Questions like how his 9-9-9 plan can avoid liberal tampering (the plan leaves the door open for liberals to step in when they get power again and simply raise the sales tax gradually…or the value added tax, etc)? You get the impression that he’s just so damned sure he’s right that he figures the obvious will dawn on Congress and businesses will immediately jump for joy and invest all of their reserve capital the moment the changes hit Washington. I like confidence in a leader…and I’m not saying some more specifically outlined 9-9-9 plan can’t work…but…in the nicest possible way, I feel as though he’s telling us all just how far ahead of us he is and assuring us that our concerns are baseless…without really explaining why. He’ll need to do some better convincing and not rely on how correct he feels he is if he expects to succeed. Barry Goldwater tried the strategy Cain is treading dangerously close to trying…he was famous for saying “In your heart, you know I’m right.” That strategy does not work in America, where in our hearts, we know only what we want. Cain’s version of this would go something more like “All I’m suggesting is common sense.” The implied meaning being that GOP lobbyists, delegates at primaries and voters have been completely without common sense before Cain arrived. He needs to tread carefully and convince us he’s right…not just tell us he is.
Tomorrow, we will delve into some specific policy opinions on Cain’s record – and it’s a more precise and less devious record than most votes in Congress. He’s been out there on his blog telling it exactly how it is in his mind for years…that resource is going to be a valuable aid going forward. Much moreso than the yes/no/present votes of Congressmen with risk aversion and campaign commercials in their heads.