by Mark Ciavola
I first met Herman Cain this past February when he addressed a Republican luncheon in Las Vegas, and spoke about his ideas as a potential candidate for president in 2012. Overall, I liked his frankness and some of his ideas to tackle some of the most serious issues our country is facing. If I had to describe Herman Cain in one way, it would be that he pulls no punches, tells it like it is, and has no patience for nonsense.
When I saw Cain for the second and third time, in early March and again in May, his speech was pretty much the same. He recited his sturdy one-liners like “not on our watch,” and his “immigration is four problems.” He didn’t offer too many specifics on foreign policy, but all three times he gave the audience some applause-worthy red meat. Herman Cain is an outsider, a different kind of presidential candidate. He’s not a politician, and he’ll tell you so.
However, is that what American wants? Or needs?
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like the typical career politician. You know the type: Always running for office, avoiding controversy once elected, putting on the fake smile, and never actually doing anything. Washington has too much of that. Too many people want to be something, rather than do something. There is a difference.
Now, suppose I need to have surgery to remove my appendix. Do I want the career doctor? Or would I prefer to have the receptionist operate on me? If my football team – the New England Patriots, if anyone cares – makes it to the Superbowl, do I want a career quarterback in the game? Or would I settle for the guy who runs the concession stand?
In the world of government and politics, it is important to understand how the system works. Regardless of how much a presidential candidate may want to change the system, he or she is just one cog in the machine. One could say that in order to change the system, you have to know the ins and outs first.
Herman Cain says he doesn’t want to know how Washington works. In fact, he said at the Right Online conference in Minneapolis this weekend that he doesn’t need to know how it works, because it doesn’t.
Wouldn’t fixing the problems of our country be more difficult, if our next president had no idea how the system works? Is Herman Cain ready to be president, simply because of his business credentials?
Some examples from the campaign trail may shed some light on the situation.
While being interviewed on Fox News Sunday last month, Mr. Cain was asked about the Palestinian concept of “right of return.” This refers back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes in what became Israel. Palestinians believe that these refugees, and their descendants, have the sacred right to return to their homes and property in Israel, or be compensated by Israel. This has become a major sticking point in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Herman Cain was caught flat-footed, only able to demonstrate that he was not familiar with the concept. His answer was convoluted at best, first stating that it should be negotiated, and then claiming that Israel doesn’t have a big problem with people returning. This was after slamming President Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus.”
The previous day, when announcing his candidacy for president in Atlanta, Herman Cain said that Americans do not need to re-write the Constitution, they need to re-read the Constitution. This line grew great applause from the audience in attendance. However, Mr. Cain went on to quote the Constitution as including a line about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which actually appears in the Declaration of Independence. Cain went on to talk about Americans’ right to “alter or to abolish” government – also found in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. This prompted several pundits to suggest that it was Herman Cain who needed to re-read the Constitution, and with good reason.
On Afghanistan, Herman Cain refuses to put forward a plan, saying that he would defer to the experts – unnamed experts. While I certainly hope he would surround himself with knowledgeable experts as president, it is still concerning that he has no tentative plan with which to deduce how he would handle the issue as a whole if elected. Cain has used the “defer to experts” line so often, it became part of the Daily Caller’s New Hampshire GOP Debate drinking game, this past week.
Then there’s the 2nd Amendment. Herman Cain, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer earlier this month, stated that he supports the 2nd Amendment. That’s great! But when asked about gun control, and whether states or local governments should be allowed to control guns, he answered, “Yes.” Now perhaps this was yet another example of how Mr. Cain was unprepared for the question, but he’s not running for president of Wendy’s, he’s running for president of the United States. And if he truly wants to be the next president, he needs to know that these questions are coming, and have answers.
Finally, there is a problem of messaging. It’s a problem most Republicans have, so it’s hard to be too critical of Cain.
In one interview, Mr. Cain was asked about his position on homosexuality. He replied, “I believe homosexuality is a sin because I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I believe it’s a sin. But I know that some people make that choice. That’s their choice.” When asked to clarify his position that homosexuality was a choice, Cain replied, “I believe it is a choice.”
Now, having been raised Catholic, I understand that Herman Cain’s view of homosexuality being a sin is perfectly valid. It is what his faith teaches him, and he has a right to believe that. However, as president of the entire United States, Cain would have to represent all Americans – even homosexuals. Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answered the same question with the following:
“My religion says it’s a sin, but I’ve always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual. So I think if someone is born that way, it’s very difficult to say that’s a sin. My church says that, but I don’t look upon someone who is homosexual as a sinner.”
In speaking with young people daily about politics, both gay and straight, I can say that the “religious right” is one of the reasons many people leave or avoid the Republican Party. That is not to say that having a foundation of faith is a bad thing. I simply believe that most Americans do not want to get their moral advice from a political party.
As a gay man, I know I was born with a predisposition to be gay, as Governor Christie speculates. Much like heterosexual people develop an attraction for the opposite sex, gay people develop it for the same sex. It’s just that simple. And while the church would advise gays to not act on those attractions, the reality of life necessitates otherwise.
For Herman Cain to believe that homosexuality is a choice, not actually being homosexual himself, would be like me, as a Caucasian, believing Black people face no discrimination in America today. It is simply presumptuous. What it does do, is ensure that many homosexuals never hear his conservative vision for America – because he has already turned them off.
As a gay conservative, I know first-hand how hard it is to convince gays of the merits of conservatism – due in large part to the religious standards within the GOP.
Again, it all goes back to messaging.
This past week on the Alan Stock News Show in Las Vegas, Herman Cain stated that “all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists have been Muslim – except a couple.”
This is up there with John McCain’s “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” song.
While conservatives will stand up and say “But he’s right! All terrorists ARE Muslim,” they are wrong. There are terrorists all over the world. Some are Black, some are white. Some are male, some are female. Some are right here in the United States, and aren’t Muslim at all.
It’s one thing to say that the radical Islamists who have attacked us look similar, come from similar places, etc. It’s another to make an insensitive statement that all terrorists are Muslim.
Herman Cain is a good guy, and he wants to get involved and help save his country. I get it. And I applaud his willingness to get out there, in front of the public, in front of the media, and be a candidate.
However, we elected a candidate with no experience in 2008, and look where it got us.
Up on stage with six other candidates for the 2012 nomination, Herman Cain, for the first time, looked to be outclassed. His answers were vague, he repeated his standby lines, and offered very little new information as to who he is, and what he would do as our next president.
Herman Cain might make a great CEO and even a great elected official some day. But he is not ready to be president of the United States.
We conservatives may like his no-nonsense attitude, but that and three F-bombs landed Donald Trump back on Celebrity Apprentice, if you know what I mean.