Herman Cain, The Man Who Would Be A Candidate

by George Kennedy on December 19, 2011


Herman Cain, The Man Who Would Be A Candidate

Herman Cain’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination has to date been marred by numerous allegations of sexual harassment, questionable financing of his campaign by the billionaire Koch brothers, an inability to square his infamous “9-9-9” tax plan with the reality of its impact on people, foreign policy gaffes that border on the comedic, and images of a candidate who takes himself more seriously than the voters who would ultimately decide his fate in an unlikely matchup with the President. That Cain takes himself seriously as a candidate is not a game-changer since it does require a measure of self-confidence to stand as a candidate for the Presidency.

While the President struggles to rebuild his image as the right leader for the times and the preferred alternative to any of the current crop of Republican candidates, it is difficult to project Herman Cain into the Oval Office except as a visitor. This would also apply to Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry as well. Were Cain a challenger for the Democratic nomination, his advisors most likely would be seeking an exit from the tall grass into which their candidate has wandered. Now that his notoriety as a candidate will be enhanced by a phalanx of Secret Service agents to keep the baying press at arm’s length, we can only expect that Cain will wade ever deeper and more aggressively, with more gusto, into the tall grass. We need only follow the klieg lights to find our man. Because Cain could now make for more interesting copy, the media will wade with him until a candidate emerges from the early primaries.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow refers to Herman Cain’s campaign as a brilliant art project because some of the notable quotes in his speeches come directly from Pokemon, SimCity4, a scene from the film Rush Hour 3 (with Jackie Chan and Cris Rock) and a Homer Simpson movie. Cain denies a connection but the probability is so high, serious questions arise about the candidate himself. Is Herman Cain a serious candidate for his party’s nomination? Or, is he living the number one item on his “bucket list”? – becoming a presidential candidate. It is difficult to know.

Herman Cain would not have been taken as a serious candidate for the Democratic Party nomination because the Party would have been petrified by attacks from the Republicans over the alleged sexual harassment allegations. Republicans tolerate sexual harassment allegations against their own but are quick to serve as judge, jury, and executioner when the perpetrators is a Democrat. Then, there would be the questions surrounding the propriety of his financial dealings with the Koch brothers. Also, Cain’s tax proposals would never pass muster with the Democratic National Committee or the legion of Democratic economists who would have dissected it and declared it a non-starter right out the gate. Moreover, what Democratic strategist would have agreed to sign on as his campaign manager? Cain could only have run as a Republican. Remember Alan Keyes?

Herman Cain may actually believe in his viability as a Presidential candidate; one that has to tack to the right to secure the nomination of his party, and then move quickly to the center to compete for the more centrist independents, Progressives, and conservative Democrats. Imagine the millions of single and married women in the Democratic base angered by his unwillingness to be forthright about sexual harassment charges lining up to vote for Cain. More fundamentally, the Republican Party is unlikely to coalesce behind Cain as its standard bearer. The image of a President Cain would signify a shift the Republican Party is not prepared to accept, his anti-government and jingoistic policy ideas notwithstanding. Cain touts his corporate experience and leadership qualities often. As admirable as his accomplishments may be, he does not inspire the confidence of Wall Street’s captains of finance, the political and corporate elites, nor a significant swath of the 1 percent. Cain’s aspirations aside, he is not one of them.

There is a Republican brand that has suffered the ravages of an association with the Tea Party and their “just-say-no-cohort” in the Congress. The ground is shifting under the feet of the Republican Party and the fear of the Karl Rove branch is that with the wrong Presidential candidate, the Party could lose the gains they made in 2010. The Republican brand must be rebuilt. The question is, “Who will be their standard-bearer, the face of the brand? Mitt Romney is not their first choice but he is digestible.

Unspoken is the idea that Herman Cain is the perfect foil for the Koch brothers to ward off charges that the conservatives, the Tea Party, and the 1 percenters are anti-black and anti-minority. Cain is the perfect foil to express social and policy positions no other Republican candidate will e.g., electrify the fence along the Southern border with Mexico and post a sign that says, “this fence will kill you!” You don’t withdraw that statement by blithely suggesting you were just making a joke. Agribusiness interests across the country depend on undocumented, cheap Mexican labor to harvest their crops and work in their meat-processing plants. While the affected business interests may prefer a different face to their labor force, it is simply not available on their terms. Millions of Latino voters are unlikely to rally around a Cain Presidency.

George W. Bush’s lack of intellectual curiosity about foreign policy and America’s standing around the world was tolerable because his name was “Bush.” Cain is reflexively anti-Obama on key foreign policy initiatives of this Administration but then fails to articulate the basis for a counter narrative. As a minimum, he could read a headline or two before meeting with an editorial board or fielding press queries. Would the Republican old guard, the neoconservatives, and the corporate elite accept this from Cain? You have to wonder. There are stirrings among some in the 1 percent that recognize the inevitability of change in this country; that structural inequality on the massive scale we see today, could lead to instability here at home and in financial markets – the source of their wealth. They will want a candidate with the intellectual heft to balance their interests against those of a restive and angry citizenry clamoring for degrees of change they will find objectionable. Cain does not qualify. Among the non-Tea Party Republican base, Cain may be seen as the man who would be a candidate, but not as a man who would be their President.

Uniting the country may not rank high on a Republican President’s list of priorities, but to the extent he would seek to broaden the conservative base, Cain is not the man of the hour. A President whose leadership style is to speak in short, non-factual, declarative sentences is what embroiled us in two illegal wars in this century. This is Cain’s leadership-based speaking style, and America may not be ready to go that route so soon after G.W. Bush.

Cain’s “supporters” have suggested he would capture the Southern Black vote from President Obama. This is a serious misreading of many Blacks in the South or plain lunacy. Cain is of a generation of Black Americans who did benefit from the struggles, the gains, and the legislation arising from the Civil Rights Movement. However, being a good Republican, he denies any linkage. Cain’s preference is to subscribe to the best in Horatio Alger bootstrap theory i.e., did everything on his own. African-Americans in the South – and elsewhere – know that had it not been for the leadership of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Cain’s success record may have been more abridged. Cain’s rhetoric is anti-government, anti-compassion, anti-middle class, and without a moral foundation that could inspire trust in his leadership. To assert as he has done that “people are responsible for their condition in life” is callous in the extreme, especially during this recent recession.

At best, Herman Cain is the man who would be a candidate, but not President. When will he get the message?

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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