Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain had a brief surge after the May South Carolina debate, but since then he has spent much of his time frittering away his small advantage by making gaffes that he’s had trouble explaining. While we’ve previously discussed his lack of understanding of foreign policy issues, another topic that has bedeviled him is his attitude toward Muslims.
Previously, Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or to a federal judgeship. He later backed off that statement and told me last week when I appeared with him on “The John Stossel Show” on the Fox Business Channel he only meant he just wanted to make sure any possible cabinet members were not terrorists. He had no answer when I asked why he would consider someone who could possibly be a terrorist for such a position. Yesterday, he dug himself in even deeper on the question of Muslims by making another puzzling statement.
Cain told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that he sided with the residents of a town near Nashville, Tennessee, who were trying to prevent the construction of a mosque, saying they had a right to keep Muslim worship out of their municipality. Let’s understand right away there is no comparison between the concerns many Americans had about the construction of a Muslim community center literally in the shadow of Ground Zero and a controversy such as this one. It is one thing to ask that a sectarian group not try to commandeer the narrative of the 9/11 attacks. It is quite another to establish a principle, as Cain appears to be doing, that freedom of religion may be abridged across the country simply at the whims of some citizens.
Cain insists he is not personally prejudiced. But even if we concede he is above personal biases, it’s clear he doesn’t understand the implications of such a stand. While he is good at delivering clever sound bytes, Cain has demonstrated he has trouble making sense of some issues. For example, on the Stossel show, he insisted that he was pro-life, but then said he supports a women’s right to choose. It was as if he didn’t realize the two stands were contradictory.
During the course of the last decade, as America has fought a war against Islamist terrorists, some of our nation’s leaders have bent over backwards trying to avoid any mention of the role of Islam in the conflict. But as much as that may have been overdone, it bears repeating the United States is not at war with all Muslims or their religion. To intimate that this is the case is to undermine the efforts of our troops fighting in the Middle East and to alienate potential allies.
It is also bad politics. Perhaps Cain thinks he will score points with conservatives with his ham-handed swipes at Muslims, but appeals to prejudice are not the way to win votes in the primaries. On the contrary, the more Cain sticks his foot into his mouth on these issues the less chance he has of having any impact in the GOP race.