My Herman Cain Problem
Recently, I’ve been having a spate of private arguments with some of my fellow GOPs regarding Herman Cain. I’ve found that, among Cain fans, it’s sometimes (not always, but sometimes) difficult to express reservations about their candidate of choice without getting attacked personally in one way or another. I feel about Cain the way I’ve felt in the past when friends whose opinions I genuinely respect have recommended a “must see” TV show, and after viewing it I find myself having difficulty understanding why my friends are so crazy about it.
So in the spirit of “who the hell needs friends anyway,” here are some of my reservations about candidate Cain.
Let’s begin with an easy one. Cain can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth. He’s damn near pathological about it. The Palestinian “right of return” flub, the “I think we already recognize their democratically-elected government (of Taiwan)” gaffe, the “no Muslims in my cabinet” claim and reversal, the “ban on mosques” claim and reversal, the “Gitmo prisoner exchange” claim and reversal, the “ascribing the most well-known lines of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution” blunder, the “China is seeking nuclear capability” bungle, the “what’s a neo-con?” stumble, etc., etc. And this is only in the first few months of the primary.
But okay, Cain might become better-informed in the months to come. So let’s leave those concerns behind and move on…
The experience question. In next year’s general election, we have two very strong arguments to make regarding Obama’s failures. One is that Obama’s policies are bad. They don’t work. They’re destructive. But another equally effective argument is that Obama’s near-absolute lack of governing experience made him ill-equipped for the job of president. If we run Cain in the general, we lose the ability to use the latter argument. If we run someone who, impossible as it may be to imagine, actually has less governing experience than Obama, we can’t make Obama’s lack of pre-election governing experience an issue.
Now remember, a large percentage of independent voters – you know, the people whose votes we’ll need to win – don’t hate Obama. After all, a lot of them voted for him in ’08. It’s more that they’ve grown disappointed with him. He’s let them down. They don’t see him (as many of us do) as the bastard child of Mao Zedong and Rosa Luxemburg. They simply see him as a sad, sad failure.
These are the people who will be especially moved by the talking point that Obama was a poorly-qualified candidate ill-equipped for the most important job in the world. These disaffected independents will not be keen on replacing Obama with someone with even less governing experience. We run Cain, we lose one of our most effective strategies.
Cain supporters will argue that their guy’s experience in the private sector will make up for his lack of governing experience. I’m not sure voters will buy that; I’m not sure I buy that. Running a company is different from running a country. More importantly, Cain’s private-sector experience will count for nil if, God forbid, there’s a major terrorist attack in the months before the election, or if war breaks out in one of the world’s hot-spots. Cain has joked about his lack of foreign policy knowledge, and how he’ll learn on-the-job if elected. Heaven help us if we run Cain and, two months before the election, events create an environment in which a joke about not knowing the name of the leader of “Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan” loses all humor.
By running Cain we’d be doing the unthinkable – running a man who’s FIRST TIME being publicly vetted is in a presidential election (Cain did run for the Senate in ’04, but he didn’t make it out of the primary, and was thus spared the scrutiny that comes with competing in a general election). With Cain as the nominee, 2012 would be our “crossed fingers” election. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he stops making embarrassing gaffes; let’s keep our fingers crossed that he has no more skeletons in his closet (like the sexual harassment settlements); let’s keep our fingers crossed that he can control his temper once the heat really gets turned up; let’s keep our fingers crossed that nothing occurs on the international stage in the months before the election that would make his ignorance of foreign policy a major campaign issue.
In short, if 2008 was the Democrats’ year of “Hope and Change,” with Cain as our guy, 2012 will be the Republicans’ year of “Hope and Pray.”
“Thanks for the sound-bite, Herman. Sincerely, Barack.” Cain has already given the Obama re-election team a gift of immeasurable worth: He’s given them a “Kerry moment.” When John Kerry uttered the now-infamous “I actually voted for that bill before I voted against it” comment, he handed team Bush the best campaign commercial they could have hoped for. Cain hasn’t even waited until election year to give team Obama the one sentence they can play over and over again in their campaign ads: “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
Assuming, and this is a pretty easy assumption, that unemployment will still be a top (or the top) issue during the campaign next year, how exactly do you think that sound bite is going to play to voters? How can we blame unemployment on Obama’s policies if we have a candidate who’s on record saying that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, not the government? Cain’s boneheaded comment can single-handedly dilute our most compelling argument – that we can accomplish job creation, and that Obama’s policies are responsible for the dismal job figures.
Cain supporters might counter that his “blame yourself” statement was referring specifically to the OWS protesters, not to the unemployed in general. And that might indeed have been Cain’s intent. But Cain didn’t qualify his statement to make clear that he wasn’t bashing all unemployed. It was a ham-fisted comment. For the record, Kerry also tried to clarify what he “really” meant with the “voted for it before voting against it” remark. Little good it did him. The sound-bite is what matters, not the footnote.
The race card. If Cain had responded to the Rick Perry “Negrohead rock” non-story, and the recent sexual harassment claims, by unequivocally refusing to play the race card, we’d all be applauding his character. Admit it – we would. So what does it say about his character that in both instances he pulled that foul card quicker than Robert Shaw pulling a fifth ace out of a loaded deck in The Sting? Whether on the attack (against Perry) or on the defensive (against the harassment charges), Cain seems to have no problem screaming racism. Personally, I see that as a serious character flaw.
And, frankly, when you can’t run on governing experience, character becomes much more important.
And on the subject of character…
“I did not say what I just said!” Cain seems to have no problem just…well, I’ll be blunt – lying. On camera. About something that happened ten minutes earlier. In June, while holding a press conference at RightOnline, Cain quite clearly said that he would consider taking “extra precautions” when appointing Muslims to his cabinet. He said this on camera, in a room full of reporters. About ten minutes later – at the same press conference, in front of the same reporters – he was asked what he meant by “special precautions” (the reporter said “special precautions” instead of “extra precautions,” but the doesn’t change the legitimacy of the question; what “precautions” was Cain referring to? It’s a completely appropriate question). Cain threw a temper tantrum and screamed “I never said I would use any special precautions.” He then had the audacity to claim that the “precautions” comment was a lie cooked up “by somebody on the Internet.”
Mind you, he said that to a room full of reporters who had, only ten minutes earlier, heard him say that he’d consider using “extra precautions” when appointing Muslims.
That was absolutely irresponsible. We can’t sugar coat what we see on that video. He lied, in a place and manner in which the lie was demonstrable and preserved for the record. What the hell are we supposed to make of that? Is he so easily flustered that he can forget something that happened ten minutes ago? Is he just reckless? Or, as others have suggested, is his entire campaign based on the strategy of “winging it?”
Which brings me to the current sexual harassment morass. Frankly, there’s only one aspect of this controversy that concerns me. Yes, the liberal press is biased against conservatives. Yes, the media would have almost certainly soft-peddled (or ignored) the harassment story if Cain were a Democrat. Yes, the very notion of what constitutes sexual harassment can be vague. Yes, some harassment complaints are baseless.
Yes, yes, yes. I know that. We all do.
Now, most of us can agree that team Cain didn’t handle the harassment scandal in a prepared and professional manner. But my concern is, did Cain lie through his teeth when the story became public?
Cain repeatedly claimed that the harassment charges were “thoroughly investigated” by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and found to have “no basis.”
“I was falsely accused of sexual harassment and when the charges were brought, as the leader of the organization, I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and my human resource officer to deal with the situation. And it was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis.”
The problem is, as of this writing, there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence of any “thorough investigation” by the NRA that found the charges baseless. In fact, the person who was head of the NRA’s human resources department at the time of the incidents claims to have no knowledge of any such investigation.
Cain has quite possibly wandered into a classic Nixonian “the cover-up is worse than the crime” sand-trap. Many Republicans (myself included) could live with a candidate who, twelve years ago. became embroiled in a “he said/she said” workplace harassment situation. Honestly, it’s not that big a deal to me. But what I can’t live with is a candidate who could look his supporters in the eyes and lie about a nonexistent report that supposedly cleared him.
If Cain lied about the exonerating report, that’s a MASSIVE red flag. As I said, at this point I really don’t give a damn about what happened with his female employees twelve years ago. What I care about is if Cain’s response to the crisis was to lie.
I think enough questions have been raised concerning Mr. Cain’s viability as a candidate to warrant a demand to know whether such an internal investigation exists, and what its conclusions were. Because, essentially, there are four possible outcomes:1. There was no NRA internal investigation. Cain lied. 2. There was an investigation, but it found that the harassment claims had merit. Cain lied. 3. There was an investigation, but no conclusion was reached as to whether the claims were legitimate or baseless. Cain lied. 4. There was an investigation, and it concluded that the harassment claims had no basis. Cain told the truth.
Three out of four potential outcomes do not favor Mr. Cain. Those are not great odds. Now, for all I know, Cain is telling the God’s honest truth about the exonerating investigation. But he’s already been contradicted by one of the people who supposedly oversaw it. And it’s a simple fact that we really don’t know very much about how Cain would handle a major crisis if he were elected president.
So let’s at least find out how he handled this one. Either there is an internal investigation that cleared him, or there isn’t. If there is, that should be the end of the harassment scandal.
If there isn’t, I’d say the same thing about Mr. Cain’s campaign.