I used to ride the Cain train. Now, I’ve stepped off. The reason I’m rethinking my support for GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has little to do with the increased media scrutiny, namely the sexual harassment allegations leveled against him.
No, the real reason I am rethinking my support for Mr. Cain is very simple: He is too much like President Obama. This is ironic because Cain has very successfully marketed himself as the anti-Obama – the conservative outsider who is ignorant of Washington political shenanigans, the honest straight-talker with common sense solutions and a no-bull approach. Like many others, I initially found this style quite attractive, and I supported Cain for the GOP nomination long before his recent surge in the polls.
But after Cain’s initial charm wore off, I began to look a little deeper, and I found the similarities between Cain and Mr. Obama were disturbing to say the least.
For starters, Obama and Cain both share a lack of political experience. When it was obvious that Obama was a real contender for the White House, I remember conservative pundits making quite a noise over Obama’s relative lack of political experience, calling him an “empty suit” and arguing that such a political novice couldn’t possibly make a good president. I agreed with them then, and I agree with them now. The leader of the free world should know what he is doing, and as Obama’s bumbling presidency has deftly demonstrated, political experience matters.
I don’t believe in double standards, and Cain shouldn’t be exempt from the experience criterion simply because he holds conservative positions. Being the president of the United States is unquestionably the most difficult job in the world, and politics is a dangerous game. If our next president does not have the knowledge to carefully navigate the shark-infested waters of international and domestic policymaking, he will get eaten for lunch. There are literally hundreds of powder-keg issues facing this nation and the global community that will most certainly blow into full-fledged crises if not handled with extreme delicacy and wisdom – wisdom born of time and experience. This is no time for a novice.
Second, a good politician needs to know how to unify the nation and even, dare I say it, compromise with the opposition. Politics is at its heart the art of compromise. Nothing more, nothing less. The trick is knowing when to compromise and on what. Obama has shown little ability in this area. His radical legislative proposals – including massive stimulus spending and constitutionally doubtful health-care legislation – have helped charge Washington with an air of hostility and rancor on a scale rarely seen. This is not good politics. And it’s not good compromise.
And love it or hate it, Cain’s 9-9-9 plan won’t foster the spirit of compromise either. It is just too radical – Obama-style radical. Even if you think this plan is brilliant, which I don’t, you can’t escape the fact that it would turn Washington into a war zone if it were presented to Congress as a serious legislative proposal. Cain’s campaigning on such a divisive platform (even conservatives can’t agree on whether or not the 9-9-9 plan is a good thing) has shown me that he will likely promote further division and will therefore accomplish very little. He will be yet another polarizing influence contributing to the deadlock that currently paralyzes Washington.
Finally, I find it worrisome that Cain’s campaign is largely marketing driven instead of issues oriented – just like Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. “Hope and change,” Obama delivered with a smile, and America swooned. What kind of change, nobody bothered to ask. It sounded so wonderful, it had to be right. Well, as many Americans have now seen, this wasn’t quite the case.
I’ve come to believe the excitement over Cain is largely the result of the same charisma-driven happy talk. “9-9-9,” Cain says with a grin, and America applauds. Who cares what the 9-9-9 plan actually proposes, it is a brilliant marketing slogan. Now Cain may very well have ideas on policy, and they may even be good ones, but he is making slogans, not ideas, the hallmark of his campaign. We’ve had four painful years of showmanship without substance already. We don’t need four, possibly eight, more years of the same. Not now, not at this critical time in history.
No, what we desperately need right now is a leader with wisdom and statesmanship. We need a leader whose strength is in his or her ideas – specific ideas that have been extensively thought through and that are the product of time and experience. We need a leader who has been around the block enough to know what works and what doesn’t; a leader who has learned how to compromise, but who will have enough backbone to stand firm on the essentials; a leader who can delicately yet decisively handle the fiscal nightmare we are facing; a leader who can confront the growing number of sensitive global economic, political, and military issues; a leader who is big enough to listen to others and admit when he is wrong.
I don’t pretend to have made up my mind just yet on who that leader is (although Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is looking more attractive all the time). But I do know the nominee vetting process is a triathlon, not a sprint, and it will be the tortoise and not the hare who will earn the respect and votes of the American people. I have also decided that, at least for me, the Cain train has run out of steam.
Sam Guzman is a columnist and essayist.