By Paolo von Schirach
November 4, 2011
WASHINGTON – Herman Cain, the retired Godfather pizza entrepreneur now running for the Republican Party 2012 nomination, is very popular with the party “base” because he is a genuine straight shooter. He’s a hard core conservative and he’s got solid principles: low taxes and less government, while he favors a “strong” US foreign policy. Speaking to an audience in Washington, Cain walked to the podium used also by other Republican candidates and, after having disdainfully looked at a teleprompter, made a point to declare that the contraption from which one can read a text was not for him. No, sir. Cain is not scripted. He does not come and talk to good Americans reciting a prepackaged speech prepared by advisers. Cain speaks from the heart, and he’ll tell it to you like it is.
Republican base does not like professional politicians
Fine. There is ample ground for being suspicious of the Washington insiders, the professional politicians who curry favors and who’ll tell any audience anything, just to get their votes. And how about the other pros who will hide behind complicated jargon and ambiguous language, so that they can cover all the bases, trying to skillfully navigate to the nomination without offending anybody? And there is also legitimate skepticism against the super experts who come in, with a touch of academic arrogance, promising clever solutions and then falling flat on their faces, because their 15 parts programs turn out to be wrong.
Enter Herman Cain, the outsider
Because of all this, Herman Cain the ‘non politician” is a refreshing new comer. Still, is it really alright for a person aspiring to be president of the United States to be blissfully ignorant about the intricacies of policy? Is it really enough to have –so he claims– just good instincts about a couple of key policies, leaving the rest to the hired hands? This is awfully close to flying blind.
Remember Ross Perot?
No, America, it is not enough. And, by the way, not being a professional politician is no guarantee of wisdom. There are biased ideologues and many other narcissists who never run for public office in an earlier life. Remember Ross Perot in 1992? For quite a while he was a national sensation. Riding the otherwise legitimate issue of the federal budget deficit, he run as a third party candidate in 1992. He got enough Republican votes to wound the incumbent George Bush senior and help Bill Clinton get elected. But then Perot faded, never to be heard from again.
And yet, just like Cain, he was a successful businessman and he exuded the same folksy appeal –heavy Texas accent and all. He would tell you things the Washington crowd would not tell you, America. He would level with you, and he would come up with no nonsense solutions that would displease the special interests, but would delight The People. Like Cain, he had big ideas; but he was short on details.
Herman Cain, just like Ross Perot
Well, Herman Cain belongs to the same school. He is not a billionaire like Perot; but he has the ever revered credentials of the self-made man who did well and ended up running a sizable business. Still, can he seriously run for president merely on the strength of his conservative convictions and a platform consisting of just a couple of concrete policy recommendations?
We know about his flat tax proposal, the “9-9-9″- mantra. Will it work, as presented? Who knows? But it has the appeal of bumper sticker politics. Simple, easy to remember. (And why should it be any worse –many would argue– than the ultra complicated US tax code, with its thousands of pages, and thousands of special interests treated favorably because of their political clout?) Cain promises to come in and clean house. And his audiences cheer.
Self assurance or just biased arrogance?
As I said, fresh air does not hurt. But Cain self-assurance, with no details, is mostly the arrogance of the man who has figured everything out and does not need to do more home work. And this is border line dangerous. Having principles is one thing. Having biases presented as principles and not much else is a serious problem.
Knowing a lot of details about issues is certainly no guarantee of being able to make wise policy choices about where to take the country. (The evidence is in the fact that policy experts vehemently disagree about direction. At least some of them, with all their knowledge, must be wrong). But knowing little, and being sort of proud about ignorance, as if details do not matter, is a bad sign.
Republicans want a fresh face
The Republicans are entitled to demand a fresh leader, not tainted by Washington. But they could also ask for someone who actually understands that America’s problem are enormously complex and systemic in nature. Quite simply, bumper sticker policy solutions may be a crowd pleaser, because people crave straight answers; but the actual policy world is really complicated.
Cain is a conservative ideologue
And I am not sure that Herman Cain gets this. He gives the impression that he’s already got all the answers. His superior judgement, grounded on his strong conservative principles, gives him the tools to deal with everything. Well, this approach may sell with Republican primary voters, at least for now, but it does not work. We have now an amateur president, (zero, repeat zero, executive experience for Barack Obama prior to 2008), with a left wing bias. A conservative amateur is not gong to be any better.