So far, my co-author has done an awesome job outlining Herman Cain’s personality and platform — but if you don’t mind, I would also like to jump in and add my own thoughts.
Looking at Herman Cain’s public statements in totality, I see three general principles at work:
- Cain doesn’t embrace the idea of the “imperial presidency”. An illustration: Yesterday, the conservative blogosphere exploded into controversy over statements Cain made on Piers Morgan’s show regarding his position on abortion. In that particular interview, you see, Cain stated that the government shouldn’t get involved with the whole abortion issue, which many conservative commentators (understandably) interpreted as a pro-choice statement. Later, however, Cain clarified, saying that as president, he would appoint conservative Supreme Court judges, veto all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and “do everything that a President can do, consistent with his constitutional role, to advance the culture of life.” Translation: Cain is a strict constitutionalist. He believes the president’s power over social issues is necessarily limited. Now, while it concerns me that Cain couldn’t get that message across the first time, the position itself is not troubling to me. In reality, abortion is primarily a legislative concern.
- Cain believes everyone should have a stake in keeping taxes low. The 9-9-9 plan needs some tweaking, but the idea behind it is sound. The problem with our current tax structure, number one, is that it incentivizes the growth of government in perpetuity. Those who get tax breaks – whether they be the wealthy crony capitalists heading some of our largest corporations or those in the lower brackets who pay no federal income tax – don’t really care about increases in marginal rates because they are shielded from the effects of those increases. They, in short, have a perfectly rational reason to clamor for tax hikes to fund big government; after all, Other People are going to pay for it. There are also solidarity issues to consider. While half the country is campaigning for tax increases, others have a perfectly rational reason to campaign against such increases because they are likely to feel most of the impact. In this way, our country is rent in twain. People are angry. Resentments are festering. Is this healthy for our democracy? I think not. But this state of affairs will continue to exist so long as people keep trying to use the tax code as an instrument for social engineering.
- Cain doesn’t like to make snap judgments, especially in areas beyond his expertise. In his last post, SABR Matt alluded to Cain’s lack of awareness with regards to our military operations overseas, and yes — that is in fact Cain’s most troubling weakness (besides communication issues like the one noted above, which seem to stem from his inexperience). I am, however, comforted by Cain’s honesty with regards this problem. In his most recently published book, This Is Herman Cain!, he comes right out and admits that he has no plan for Afghanistan at the moment because he has no idea what’s really going on over there right now. He would rather speak to his military advisors and look at the key intelligence before advancing any big proposals. And you know what? Not only do I appreciate Cain’s putting the reality before the political soundbite, but I also think his current hesitant approach to foreign policy (aside from his general belief that we should continue to support our traditional allies) might be supremely wise. Keep in mind that Obama ran as the “anti-war” candidate in 2008 — yet has not really governed as an “anti-war” president since. I’m betting the intelligence scared the crap out of Obama and forced him to change his mind — and thank goodness for that!
Now let’s tackle a few of the specifics (and here, I will pull some quotes from SABR Matt’s last post):
CAIN: Great big fences and wide open doors!
ME: Cain’s philosophy is close to mine here – and I suspect my co-author would agree.
I would. I’ve worked with countless legal immigrants who’ve spent hours and hours of instruction time perfecting their English. The person who pays me every two weeks is a legal immigrant — and the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of our tutoring center is also a legal immigrant. Indeed, I can now say “hi,” “bye,” “thank you,” “yes,” and “no” in Korean thanks to my extensive daily exposure to legal immigrants. I know – at a very intimate level – how legal immigrants contribute to our society. Do I believe we should widen our legal entry points? Hell yes! This is especially critical when it comes to attracting talent in the STEM fields. It’s crazy that people come over on student visas to study engineering at MIT but then have to reapply for entry once they’ve graduated.
At the same time, though, we do need to secure our borders and crack down on illegal immigration. For one thing, it’s not fair to my students or my bosses – i.e., the people taking the effort to get here through the proper channels – that we allow other people to break the law and get away with it. For another thing, our lax enforcement of our immigration laws (and our failure to assimilate new arrivals) has resulted in the creation of an underclass that is culturally and linguistically isolated from the mainstream and is therefore more likely to be exploited. Open-borders advocates claim that we conservatives want to build fences on our southern border because we hate “brown people,” but personally, I think we should throw that back in their faces because they are the ones who are really screwing such people over.
CAIN: Remove federal controls on education standards (e.g. No Child Left Behind – Cain calls this “unbundling education”) and give greater freedom to towns and cities (and states) to run their education system. Increase funding for charter schools and educational vouchers to allow parents to choose better education for their children.
ME: These things are great, but again, not far-reaching enough. While I recognize that the political attainability of my own goal would be in doubt, the first and only way to truly fix public education would be outlaw collective bargaining at the [f]ederal level for [s]tate employees and force teachers to compete for their jobs based on student achievement, rather than based on union cronyism.
Limiting the power of public sector unions is key – as are many of the things highlighted in Cain’s platform – but I believe even that doesn’t quite cover everything. The manner in which we train teachers is also woefully insufficient — and, quite frankly, our curriculum sucks, especially with regards to the STEM subjects. Singapore is kicking our collective asses in math achievement right now because Singaporeans use a curriculum that is focused and logically structured (I’ve occasionally used Singapore Math materials at work, so I should know), while we have curriculums (notice the plural) that “spiral” mindlessly and are, to use the common phrase, “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
(Of course, the problems I mention above are certainly beyond the president’s power to fix – especially if, under a Cain presidency, we return to local control – but I thought it important to note their existence anyway.)
CAIN: REPEAL OBAMACARE! (duh) Replace this monstrosity with a combination of substantive tort reform (specifically including a “loser pay” provision that requires whoever loses a lawsuit to pay the legal fees of the guy who wins and a cap on maximum claims for putative damages and emotional distress), the allowing of health savings accounts (and the right of the patient to invest their health savings in the stock market), and the expansion of the eligibility of tax deductions for health insurance premiums both for individual plans and for group plans provided by an employer.
ME: I’ve been saying for six years now (since I became aware of the issue in fuller detail) that three things need to happen to fix what ails the health industry. Tort reform is the first. (check for Cain) Invested Health Savings Accounts is the second (check again). The third is actually a regulation (eke!) that would prohibit a healthcare provider from setting prices for procedures without documenting the costs that go into them.
That third idea is a bad idea. Who’s going to decide whether reported costs are justified? And how much is it going to cost each healthcare provider to produce all the paperwork necessary to stay in compliance with such a law? No — that plan has a stink of central planning around it that I don’t really care for. But I think I understand what SABR Matt is getting at. There is a problem with pricing in our healthcare system, and it’s the fact that there’s no pricing in the traditional sense. Try asking a doctor some time how much a cardiac catheterization would cost if a patient paid for it out of pocket. Kevin Williamson once attempted something similar, and as he relates in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, nobody he spoke to had any bleeping idea what the “real” price of his medical care would be. They looked at him like he’d grown a third head all of a sudden and kept insisting, “But you have insurance! You don’t need to pay out of pocket!”
As SABR Matt correctly observes, our healthcare system is not operating under a free market at present. First of all, you have Medicare and Medicaid, the bureaucracies for which cap reimbursements at artificially low levels. At the same time, private insurance companies also set limits on how much a healthcare provider can charge for his services. (I’ve looked at the occasional EOB from Anthem BCBS – my insurance provider – and my rheumatologist always asks for more than BCBS tells me to pay.) In this environment, it makes rational sense to charge very high prices in the hopes that, after all the bureaucratic discounts have been imposed, you will still get the actual fair market price for your talent and labor.
So how do we correct this? Not by adding yet one more layer of regulations. Regulation is what got us into our present mess to begin with. Instead, the federal bureaucracy needs to get out of the healthcare pricing business altogether. The government shouldn’t be deciding what is or isn’t a fair price because not even the smartest person in the world has access to enough information to determine what that fair price is (as Thomas Sowell has repeatedly noted). The fair price changes from day to day and from location to location, and there are many variables involved. You have to factor in the research and development, the education of our healthcare professionals, building maintenance, salaries for the necessary clerical assistants, etc., etc. Leftists often bitch that “this pill only costs two dollars to produce, but they’re charging me $200 for it,” but said leftists are ignoring the above-mentioned costs. We shouldn’t because we know better.
But we’re kind of veering off the subject here, so let’s return to the discussion of Herman Cain. As I’ve indicated here and in my comments elsewhere, I really like the guy. I wish he would stop muddying the water on abortion (as I was spending the entire afternoon writing this post, Cain once again put his foot in his mouth with regards to that matter), but on the whole, I’m personally attracted to his authenticity and, yes, his populist edge. Our professional political class has obviously failed us. Perhaps it’s time to put a genuine outsider on our ticket (in either the first or second slot).