By DeWayne Wickham
What is the magnetism of Herman Cain?
How has this former pizza company executive with no prior political experience, relatively little campaign funds and a small staff of political neophytes been able to surge into the front ranks of the candidates vying for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination?
Nothing signals the GOP’s disarray more than the rise of Cain, a man whose confounding views apparently mean less to Republicans than his simple answers to complex questions. And nothing should worry the managers of President Obama’s re-election campaign more than the growing appeal of a would-be opponent whose solutions to this nation’s perplexing problems are more lyrical than sensible.
Cain is an anti-politician — a White House candidate whose greatest appeals seems be his pizza parlor view of the world. While such a description might appeal to those who think nothing short of a revolutionary change will make the nation’s capital more responsive to the needs of the American people, the possibility of Cain ending up in the Oval Office has to alarm thoughtful people on both sides of this country’s political divide.
Like any good salesman, Cain pushes what sells. To a nation frustrated by Congress’ inability to reform the federal tax laws, he’s offered his “9-9-9” tax plan, which would replace the current federal tax codes with a 9% tax on income, sales and businesses. That seems like a good idea to a lot of people frustrated by the federal government’s complicated tax laws.
Cain’s proposal to build an electrified fence along the U.S.-Mexican border — which he has mentioned several times — had a similar kind of appeal. As far back as May, that pitch was a good applause line for Cain, who once said he’d put an alligator filled moat next to that barrier.
Cain, however, stumbled a bit following Israel’s decision to release more than 1,000 Palestinians for a single Israeli soldier held by Hamas. During a CNN interview, Cain said he would consider exchanging a large number of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to gain the freedom for an American soldier.
“I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer,” he said. But when Cain came under attack from fellow Republicans for this view, he said he misspoke. He would not negotiate with terrorists, Cain said later during a GOP presidential debate. Then in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Cain — who once said some people think he just has pepperoni between his ears — backtracked again. His talk about building an electrified fence to keep illegal immigrants from crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, he said, was a long-running joke.
Even so, none of Cain’s backtracking has knocked him out of the front ranks of GOP presidential hopefuls. This may be because his retreat on the Mexican fence issue sounded more like waffling than surrender; more media-driven than heartfelt. His pullback on the prisoner exchange question — and from an answer he gave to a question about abortion in which he seemed to suggest it is OK for a rape victim to end a pregnancy — was an embrace of right-wing dogma.
For many members of the conservative rank-and-file, Cain is one of them. He’s a frank-talking, grass-roots guy whose best credential is that he isn’t a career politician. Of course, the nation could use a big infusion of people in elected office who aren’t career politicians.
But the lack of political experience can be a double-edged sword – one that makes a person appealing, yet unsuitable for the presidency.