Rising Cain: Part IV – Steph Comments on Cain’s Platform, General Principals, Etc.

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):

Immigration

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.

Education

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.)

Healthcare

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).

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Rising Cain: Part III – Summary of Policy Beliefs

Now that we’ve gotten past the main buzzphrase of Cain’s candidacy (and we’ll talk about his campaign strategy in the final post), let’s throw some comments out there about his many stated opinions regarding proper governmental policy.

Immigration
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.  We presently have a very dirty system in place to encourage (intentionally!) illegal immigration because Americans won’t work cheaply enough to make our economy function (or so goes the claim of many libertarians).  Ron Paul – the nation’s leading libertarian voice (perhaps along with Gary Johnson) – argues that we should give the illegal immigrants immediate amnesty because they came her seeking something they have a right to seek and because amnesty will solve the criminal problems attached to illegal immigration.  Ron Paul, to put it bluntly, is logically challenged.  Drug trafficking and under-the-table shady dealings for cheap labor are not the root of all evils with illegal immigration.  I believe the root problem is a lack of cultural context.  It’s not true for everyone who gets here illegally, but I do believe that for many, the nation from which they came has been lawless and morally bankrupt and it has raised them to be less likely to respect the rule of law and the fundamental Judeo-Christian value system that defines America.  When your first act is in direct defiance of American law – how seriously can we take your willingness to live in accordance with our laws and customs?
Cain – like many in the Tea Parties – believes in the message etched on the Statue of Liberty:

 “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But note carefully – this classic expression of our fervent desire that America be a place of refuge for those yearning for freedom comes with an expectation attached.  That those seeking to be here and benefit from this great nation should respect their new home and become American – bringing their unique individuality with them but living as Americans…not as Mexican Americans or Italian American or Irish Americans or Chinese Americans.  Warlier generations of immigrants came here dreaming of being a part of this experiment in freedom and understood that they must assimilate at least in philosophical spirit.  Cain, following this logic, believes the process of legally emigrating to America should be made easy enough to accept those who are willing to work just a little bit to attain that right, but that illegal immigration should be treated like the crime that it is.

Crony Capitalism

CAIN: Sees that the problem exists on both sides of the aisle, politically, and believes that the solution is to shrink government regulations on business – allowing natural market forces to dictate who thrives and who fails.  Specific policy ideas include the repeal of the Frank-Dodd bill (spearheaded by two of the most egregious crony capitalists in the U.S.) and the significant downsizing of the E.P.A., the Federal Reserve and government-run (and already failed) banking agencies.  It is also fair to point out that many of the problems with crony capitalism would be smaller if and when Cain’s simpler tax code were enacted (at least as he sees it) since those loopholes in the system inserted to benefit certain industries would be gone.

ME: I think the first and most important thing we need to do to prevent crony capitalism in our institutions is to pass a Constitutional Amendment (yes…really) banning the Congress from passing any law which favors any corporation or industry to the exclusion of its’ competitors in the exception of temporary measures enacted in cases of clear and present danger to the security of the United States (e.g. Federal subsidies to industry in the preparation of our armed services to make war should the need arise, as it did during WWII).  The second most important thing would be to pass another Constitutional Amendment (these are the only two I currently favor, I promise) which would prohibit Congress from passing any bill before the entire document was read on the floor of the House and Senate – to be dubbed the “Short and Readable Bill Amendment.”  Crony capitalism sneaks into the most mundane of bills on page 784 of 2391 and not even the Senate Majority Leader or the Speaker of the House know that these provisions exist.  Let alone the rank and file in Congress who were not on the steering committee that drafted the bill.  I urge Americans to go to the Library of Congress in D.C. and request to read the copies of any law passed before about 1914. You will finish those in less than a day.  Then try reading FDR’s alphabet soup or Obamacare or Bush’s Homeland Security Act.

In this regard, I actually think Cain is not ambitious enough.  His tax code would be a step in the right direction, at least, but we need to do more than tinker with regulatory agencies and decrease regulatory spending.  We need to prevent these shenanigans from happening in the future.

Education:

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 Federal level for State employees and force teachers to compete for their jobs based on student achievement, rather than based on union cronyism.  Even FDR – a man not known for being a conservative union-buster (heh)…argued that public unions were unethical.  At the VERY least, I wish Cain would start gunning for mandatory dues abolition.  Mandatory union dues amount to tyranny of the majority – a fundamentally un0American result.

Energy:

CAIN: End farm subsidies – especially those going to unproductive things like ethanol corn – end subsidies in general for alternative energy (which have proven ineffective at encourage the market to produce workable alternatives to fossil fuel energy and which create crony capitalist concerns like the default of Solyndra), reduce the reach and scope of the E.P.A. and allow for the acquisition of domestic coal, oil and natural gas. Expand nuclear energy production.

ME: Yep and yep again.  The insanity that is paying whatever Iran wants us to pay for foreign oil has got to end.  We have enough oil in our own borders to power our cars for at least fifty years; and in the meantime, we ought to let the free markets produce technological advances that will power us into a new tech-savvy era without the burdensome costs and interference of the government.  We could crush the Middle-Eastern resistance to western freedom simply by refusing to by their product.

Health Care:

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.  This is not in Cain’s plan…but is of fundamental importance.  Here’s the thing…hospitals and doctors everywhere in this country have figured out that there is no harm in charging a LOT for things that don’t actually cost them that much.  They can charge you $10,000 dollars a day for a stay in the intensive care unit when in reality, the cost of keeping you there is more like $1,000 a day.  Why can they do this?  Because one of three things will happen:

  1. The patient will have nice insurance and the insurance company will blindly cover the high charge (jackpot for the Hospital)
  2. The patient’s insurance will cover only a portion of the charge and the hospital will choose simply to accept the lesser amount or pass the “cost” to the patient on some kind of long term repayment system.
  3. The patient will not have insurance at all and a charity will still pay more to assist the patient than the patient would have offered in a free market for the same service.
See what happened there?  The hospital never has to behave like a business in a free market and offer services at competitive rates that a consumer will accept because the insurance companies and government assistance programs and even the charities and shielding them from the consequences of overcharging.  Health prices need to be defended…that is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned.
Much more could be said about Cain from a policy perspective – I could devote an entire post to Cain’s lack of informational awareness regarding our military and the war on terrorism.  I think, however, that I will leave it here for now.  In general, Cain’s ideas do not strike me as particularly “out there” after 9-9-9…a plan which may see some teaks in the coming weeks if current rumors have anything to them.
For a guy with little political experience, he seems to be running a rather mature platform.

President Goldman Sachs

My apologies for interrupting the Herman Cain discussion, but I think this article from the Washington Post is definitely worth highlighting:

Obama still flush with cash from financial sector despite frosty relations

Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined, according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data. The numbers show that Obama retains a persistent reservoir of support among Democratic financiers who have backed him since he was an underdog presidential candidate four years ago.

Obama’s ties to Wall Street donors could complicate Democratic plans to paint Republicans as puppets of the financial industry, particularly in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have gone global over the past week.

To quote Jack O’Neill from Stargate: SG1: “Ya think?”

The article goes on to note that once the DNC’s funds are taken out of the equation, Obama is receiving fewer donations from the financial sector than Mitt Romney, but I think Glenn Reynolds’ point still holds. Obama is an outrageous hypocrite if he takes any money from the financial sector, let alone $3.9 million.

In reality, both parties are happy to accept campaign cash from financiers, bankers, and corporations. If you look at the list of top donors for the 2008 election, for example, you’ll find that quite a few “moneyed interests” leaned Democratic. Are the Occupy Wall Street folks aware of this? Maybe, but they’ll probably still vote for Obama.

Rising Cain – Part II: The 9-9-9 Plan

Before we get into Cain’s general positions on policy matters, we should tackle, in detail, Cain’s primary campaign policy contribution – he remains the only Republican challenger to propose the complete and utter demolition of the current tax system in favor of something he believes is much simpler.

For those of you who may have heard the buzzphrase but don’t know exactly what his legislation implies…well apart from me not being surprised since Cain hasn’t done a terribly good job explaining the bill unless you want to paw through his website for a while, I can provide the information I’ve gathered from the frenzied debate over 9-9-9.  The three principle components (all of which would be taxed at a 9% rate) are as follows:

  1. A 9% flat income tax for everyone employee making more than the poverty line (about $17,000 when last I checked).
  2. A 9% value added tax on businesses (he uses different language on his website, calling it a revenue tax) – this applies, essentially to the net profit each company receives from the consumption of its’ customers.
  3. A 9% national sales tax – but before you imagine paying 9% more for cereal and gasoline, Cain’s website says that the sales tax would only apply to NEW goods and to services, not to existing products.  This makes the sales tax component a transitional piece of legislation, since it would filter into our society gradually.
Some additional points of clarification have come down since he announced his 9-9-9 plan.  For example, in intends to exempt the poor from the sales tax by providing them a “prebate” cost-of-living credit check each month to cover the added cost of buying food and paying rent and the like (because all of those things…rent, utilities etc…would be taxed).  He has not specified the amount, nor has he made clear how that amount would get decided – leaving his plan vulnerable to liberal arguments for ever-increasing subsidy checks for the poor unless he’s got an objective way to define those costs before any money gets spent.
As well, he claims he intends to exempt businesses from paying taxes on business to business transactions – a rather nebulous term if ever there was one.
And finally, the bill is a temporary measure.  He thinks 9-9-9 is easier to get than his planned final destination.  What he actually advocates as our long-term tax solution is what he calls the “Fair Tax”…which amounts to a national sales tax of ~31% on all goods and services.  He thinks 9-9-9 will help teach us that the sales tax, which sounds scary up front, is a good idea because we’re then empowered to choose how much taxes we pay by choosing how much we spend (this would incentivize saving instead of buying on credit, since your income, your bank dividends, your stock portfolio, and your estate would not be taxed).
Here are some of the criticisms of the 9-9-9 plan and the following fair tax:
  • The fundamental reshaping of the tax base, as compared to the current status quo, is highly regressive.  The burden shifts more to the poor, even accounting for Cain’s cost of living checks, since the wealthy will find ways to do their business outside the US and thus avoid the service and sales taxes while the rest of us will generally still need to buy our stuff at Wal-Mart.  As well, the marginal tax rate for a typical middle class family would drop from 35% to 18%…which is a huge improvement…but the marginal tax rate for the poor would go UP from 5% to 18% minus whatever the prebate check includes.  This is very troubling even to some conservatives.
  • The business of enforcing a national sales tax of any kind would be exceedingly difficult.  State sales taxes don’t have this problem primarily because they are relatively small and consumers don’t really notice their impact financially.  A 9% national sales tax, along with your state sales taxes, would be crippling in the short term when making a big purchase (like a car or a house or a big screen TV…or your rent).  This would cause a huge incentive for Americans to find ways to make transactions without being noticed by the Feds.  The loss of revenue from black market sales tax evasions could make the plan revenue-negative in a big way and hamper efforts to pay for basic services.
  • The value-added tax is invisible to most Americans…the cost of taxing corporate earnings is passed to consumers in the price of the goods and services we buy, and we don’t realize those effects since we never see what the price of something would be without such taxes.  If we implement a value-added tax (as is done in the EU, for example), it would very easy for liberals, once empowered by majorities in the House and Senate, to gradually ratchet up the VAT and get the corporations that way.  Leaving us no better off in a business sense than we started.
  • Even if you do the sunniest of calculations and assume the plan works as advertised by Cain’s camp, it is not actually revenue neutral as he claims, but falls short by about 0.7 trillion dollars from the current Federal “budget” (in quotes since no budget has actually been passed)
  • President != God…and not even God could get 9-9-9 to pass both houses of Congress…no matter how well the election goes for Conservatives.  Cain could do something like this if the country were a corporation and he was the CEO…he could wrangle his board of trustees to give his idea a chance and if it failed, he could try something different, presuming they didn’t lose enough money to cost him his job.  But this is a country, not a company and not only is the political system not set up for sweeping changes like this to occur immediately, but it SHOULDN’T be…because when national experiments go badly, people die.
That last concern is noted by both right-wingers and left wingers.  You can probably guess which of the other concerns are raised by each side, but I will tell you that there is not a lot of bipartisan sharing of problems with this plan other than a loose concern by some on the right about the regressive nature of 9-9-9 and the Fair Tax.
For my part, I am not so concerned with the “regressive” nature of the 9-9-9 plan.  I think that the cost of living burden felt by the poor will be offset by the increasing preponderance of jobs and wealth creation in a smoother-running economy, and I believe that the progressive nature of today’s tax code is a misnomer, since the extremely wealthy can abuse it more than the rest of us, and since the wealth-redistributing nature of the current code leaves most of paying for the indefinite ballot-box slavery of a substantial subset of the population.  I even think that the last concern is somewhat overstated…in a GOP-controlled Congress (which I find fairly likely), 9-9-9 could be pushed through after some much-needed modifications and layers of necessary complexity are added by the party’s more economically learned politicians.  Besides which, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a President serving up big ideas and letting the legislative branch decide how far they want to take those ideas…that’s the way the government is SUPPOSED to work.
That said, I think concerns about liberal tinkering of a VAT and the daily evasion of a sales tax by even well-meaning citizens (some of my centrist and right-leaning friends even say they would try to cheat that sales tax if they could) are well-founded.  I believe that the 9-9-9 plan ignores human nature just as much as the progressive tax code does.
The progressive code incentivizes debt spending, begging and fiscal irresponsibility because it ignores the reality that humans produce more when they are rewarded for earning their keep.  Cain’s plan ignores the reality that humans despise costs they can see up front.  A 9% sales tax would be visible every. single. day.  When you bought your meal at a restaurant and the bill came and you saw that it WOULD have been $25.45 if not for those bastards in Washington taking 9% more from you!…when you paid your suddenly higher rent…when you got gas for your car and were charged a service fee for the privilege that was then taxed…and when you paid TurboTax to help you file your taxes…(!)…that will drive people INSANE.  The truth of the matter is…we don’t want to prioritize saving even though it’s good for us and Cain’s plan, while intending the best for us Americans who are addicted to our credit cards, will make us feel guilty for desiring the material goods that make us comfortable.  Maybe we should, but he will run aground if he tries to tell us how we should feel and his educational campaign to boost the popularity of the fair tax will die…leaving us with a partial solution (9-9-9) that is wide open for liberal tinkering and constant national frustration.
We’ll talk about some of Cain’s other policy ideas and opinions in the next installment.

Rising Cain – Part I (The Man)

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?

Affable


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.

Genuine


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.

Fast Learner


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.

Fighting Capitalism One Food Cart at a Time

Occupy Wall Street: Fighting Capitalism, One Food Cart at a Time
by Alex Klein @ New York Magazine

Even as Occupy Wall Street protesters are decrying the grip of big business on America, they are causing angst for some small business that are well within the 99 percent: The New York food carts and tourist stands that surround Zuccotti Park. And while the occupation has been compared to the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square, the mostly Egyptian kebab cookers and breakfast sellers who are losing their livelihoods aren’t too sure.

Zizi Elnagouri, a voluble native of Alexandria, Egypt, has spent five years selling pastries on the corner of Cedar and Broadway. She whirled her hands as she spoke, flapping her apron to make a point. “From the beginning of this, we lost all our business,” she lamented… Unsurprisingly, she employs a smart breakfast metaphor: “Here, they’re not fighting to eat, say, regular bread, but … special bagels or something.”

Ouch!

Irony Defined

Occupy Boston, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest, has forced the cancellation of the Greenway Mobile Food Fest:

Food fest called off due to Occupy Boston tent city
@ the Boston Herald

The sprawling Occupy Boston encampment in downtown has forced the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to call off a food fest long planned for this weekend.

The “Greenway Mobile Food Fest” set for Saturday has been canceled and won’t be held until the spring, the conservancy announced today.

“Saturday’s event was to include 12 mobile food vendors, many of them in large trucks. It was to take place on Dewey Square, the only parcel large enough to accommodate this type of gathering,” the conservancy said today in a release.

Now, why is this especially ironic? Because this food fest was apparently going to be a collection point for the Greater Boston Food Bank. So essentially, Occupy Boston’s gimme-gimme-gimme street theater has screwed the genuinely hungry.

Per the plea on The Right Sphere, I have already sent a small donation to the food bank. If you have money to spare, I recommend you do the same.