Citizen Cain, Again

Today Herman Cain announced that he is “suspending” his campaign for the Republican nomination for president.  Cain said he was dropping out of the race because the continuing allegations about affairs and sexual harassment were a distraction and were hurting his family.

I have no doubt that Cain’s decision was motivated, at least in part, by the claims about his personal life and his desire to avoid the pain they were causing for his wife and family.  I suspect, however, that his decision also involved cold-blooded evaluation of the political reality.  Cain had a brief boom of popularity and attracted lots of attention with his 9-9-9 tax plan, but by the time of the most recent claims about his personal conduct the bloom already was off the Cain rose.  He’d had debates where he had nothing much to say about anything other than his 9-9-9 plan and his campaign website, as well as other incidents that fed into a growing perception that he simply lacked the broad base of knowledge that you would prefer to have in a president.  My guess is that Cain and his advisers realized that he wasn’t going to overcome those issues, and that he should get out while the getting was good.

With Cain’s departure, the Republican field narrows and the remaining candidate debates will become more manageable — and more comfortable to watch.  In the meantime, Herman Cain has raised his profile, has increased his opportunities for speaking engagements to the faithful, and probably has sold a few books, besides.

Cain And Italy

The news coverage for the last few days has been dominated by allegations of sexual harassment by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.  The steady drip, drip, drip of new information and accusations has knocked all other news off the front page.

I don’t mean to downplay the importance of dealing properly with incidents of sexual harassment, nor do I mean to be insensitive to the issue of potential misconduct by a presidential candidate — but I think it is ludicrous that the Cain story has commanded more attention than, say, the ongoing debt problems in Italy that have toppled a government and threaten to send one of the largest economies in the world into a default that would be devastating for the global economy.

In America, we always seem to fixate on tawdry tales of misconduct by political figures.  Our recent history is littered with characters like Elizabeth Ray, Fannie Fox, and Donna Rice.  Once they were featured in headlines; now they are forgotten.

The Cain story deals with incidents that allegedly happened more than a decade ago. Cain himself is merely one of eight candidates for the Republican nomination who hasn’t received even one vote yet, because no primary will occur for weeks.  The Italian problem, in contrast, could cause crippling losses on the part of banks that hold Italian debt and thereby plunge the world into another recession.  Which story is more important?

Surveying The Republican Field

Last week Kish and I turned on CNN at 9 to watch the news and watched, instead, the second half of the Republican candidates debate.  Here are my observations based solely on that limited exposure, moving left to right on the stage.

Rick Santorum:  Desperate for attention.  Consciously staking out the most conservative position on every issue.  (Seriously, the defense budget can’t be cut at all?)  His boast that he was best suited to beat President Obama because he had been elected in a “swing state,” without noting that he got hammered in his bid for reelection, was an eye-roller.

Ron Paul:  Looks like an elf.  Every rational point — like questioning some of our defense spending — was undercut by a nutty statement that makes you wonder what he would do if he actually became President.  It’s a scary proposition.

Hermann Cain:  Not ready for prime time.  Wants to reform the tax code — who doesn’t? — but seems to lack knowledge of foreign policy and other areas of domestic policy.  Repeated himself when he didn’t have anything new to say.  Business experience is great, but political experience is important, too, and Cain doesn’t have it.

Mitt Romney:  Glib, polished, well-prepared.  Calculated, too.  One of the most comfortable candidates on stage.  Gives the impression that there isn’t a question you could ask him that he wouldn’t be able to handle reasonably well.  Acts like he is leading the pack, and he is.

Rick Perry:  Awkward, tongue-tied, and uncomfortable.  Struggled to get out coherent sentences.  Is he  over-prepared or under-prepared, tired, or just not suited to the debate format?  It’s hard to imagine him in a one-on-one meeting with a foreign leader.

Newt Gingrich:  Smart and well-spoken.  His answer describing the silly danger of making automatic cuts if an arbitrary deficit-cutting goal isn’t met was as good an answer as you will hear in an unrehearsed setting.  Capably steered the discussion back to President Obama’s performance, where the Republicans should want it to be.  The most impressive candidate on stage.

Michele Bachmann:  An afterthought.  The answer in which she launched into a naked appeal to women who are worried about losing their homes seemed programmed and over the top.   Trying hard to look like she belongs on the stage.

The part of the debate we watched actually was somewhat interesting.  I might watch the next debate, now that we are getting ever closer to 2012.