If you think that the pointy headed elites and intellectuals in Washington have screwed things up and now it’s time for an “average” American to get a shot at fixing things, there is little doubt that Herman Cain is your man.
The guy oozes averageness. Sure he’s smart and all - about some things. For example, if we ever need a president who knows how to run a pizza parlor, we could do no better than elect Herman Cain to show us. Or, if we ever need a president who’s knowledge of foreign affairs is so blinkingly average that the globe in the oval office will have more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese, Mr. Cain will fill that bill.
Average is as average does. Who cares about excellence when average will do just fine? So what if Cain couldn’t tell you how a bill becomes law, or how the budget process works? He can hire people to show him how government functions. He can hire people to run his foreign policy. He can hire a bunch of people to delve into the nuances and personalities of government. All that stuff is superfluous, right? The important thing is to call Obama a socialist and hit the Democrats hard by calling them names and trying to convince voters that they are evil incarnate.
Meanwhile, it’s about time that us average people got our very own president. Perhaps we might also consider electing a below average president. Why not? About 50% of Americans are below average in intelligence and accomplishments. Don’t they deserve their very own president too?
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Of course, I’m exaggerating - a little. Cain is an accomplished business executive who finds himself drowning in the deep end of the political pool. Not his fault. Running for office is nothing like running a business. And a race for the presidency is far removed from being a Federal Reserve board member. Bottom line; Cain’s skill set does not match the job he is seeking. If he were hiring a president of the United States, Cain wouldn’t give someone with his experience and knowledge a second look.
And neither should we.
Herman Cain’s recent stumbles over substantive issues have a way of making Rick Perry seem like the Stephen Hawking of politics. In the midst of a softball CNN interview last week, he appeared to abandon his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance. The former pizza magnate also said that he hypothetically might swap terrorists held on Guantanamo for an American soldier-and then embarrassingly backtracked during the Las Vegas debate. Asked about his foreign policy orientation on Meet the Press, a baffled Cain replied, “I’m not familiar with the neo-conservative movement.” And listening to Cain constantly struggle to explain why his regressive 9-9-9 plan would not raise taxes for most Americans is a reminder of the punch line of an old joke: “Do you believe me or your own eyes?”
Shapiro’s criticism will no doubt be dismissed out of hand by most conservatives. Not because he is misstating the facts but because of where his column appears - The New Republic (epistemic closure, anyone?).
Shapiro identifies Cain’s strengths - and weaknesses:
Aiding Cain-and potentially defying past election cycles-is the fact that Republican voters are highly skeptical of the media: 72 percent of conservative Republicans and 62 percent of all Republicans believe that there is “a lot” of bias in news coverage, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center. Anger at elected officials is the new normal. It is stunning that seven out of eight voters disapprove of the way that Congress is doing its job. Adding to this mixture is the fact that Republican voters-judging from every poll in this political season-would prefer not to nominate Mitt Romney. But the Anybody But Romney forces keep struggling with that ancient rule of politics and boxing: You can’t beat somebody with nobody.
This volatile combination is what makes the rising and raising Cain poll numbers so worrisome. The first active black candidate to have a remote chance of winning a Republican nomination may be shockingly ill-prepared for the presidency, but Cain is certainly not an extremist out of the Robertson and Buchanan playbooks. He is a cheerful conservative in the Ronald Reagan mold. Actually, Cain resembles Reagan during his GE pitchman phase-a talented speaker with scant experience in the political arena. But Reagan’s strength as a president flowed directly from his later experience of two terms as California governor and two failed presidential races.
Reagan gave what is generally considered the best fundraising speech in modern political history. His nationally televised address asking for cash for the Goldwater campaign brought in a motherlode of money that convinced some powerful California politicos that the Gipper could become governor. They were right and the rest is history.
But if you listen to that speech by Reagan back in 1964, one is struck by how ignorant it was when it came to the workings of government and politics. Reagan had an amateur’s view of politics back then and only after becoming a successful politician himself did the gaps in his knowledge and experience close.
Cain is nowhere near that point and 30 years ago, he would probably have been dismissed as an inexperienced crackpot. It’s not a question of his “averageness” or even his jaw dropping ignorance of vital foreign policy issues that makes his candidacy so troubling. Rather, it is the embrace by those who call themselves “conservative” that should have alarm bells ringing across the right from those who value bedrock conservative principles.
All this talk about dinging the “elites” and trashing the “establishment” comes down to one, very unconservative notion; the idea that people should be judged by their perceived membership in a group rather than examined as an individual, one at a time.
Since when did conservatives start playing identity politics? While we usually ascribe identity politics to matters of race, many conservatives today have expanded the concept to include class, wealth, position, accomplishment, and the extremely subjective notion that just about anyone who disagrees with the rabid base of the movement can be casually tarred with the epithet of “elitist” or “establishmentarian.” It is mindbogglingly stupid - no other way to portray it.
Oppose Mitt Romney because he is a shameless flip flopper. Oppose him because he is not a good conservative. Oppose him because you think that Romneycare should disqualify him from being nominated.
But don’t oppose him because you think he represents some kind of nebulous enemy you have designated as “elite.” And don’t go blaming the media, or Democratic dirty tricks, or anyone or anything else if the GOP nominates Herman Cain and, as he should, gets slaughtered by the most unpopular president in 30 years.