Commentary Magazine


Herman Cain’s Shallow and Contradictory Claims

In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan (which Alana wrote on earlier this week), GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain spoke out on two contentious social issues–homosexuality and abortion. Let’s deal with each in turn.

On homosexuality, Cain claimed that it is a “choice.” If there are any other factors that go into determining one’s sexual orientation, Cain didn’t name them.

From my understanding of things, there is no single, simple causation when it comes to sexual orientation. For example, there is no “gay gene” that we know of. (The much-hyped 1993 study by the National Institutes of Health didn’t withstand scrutiny. A later study published in Science reported that the “data do not support the presence of a gene of large effect influencing sexual orientation.”) But this doesn’t necessarily mean homosexuality isn’t genetic at all; it could be a trait that arises from the interaction of genes.

How one’s sexual orientation is determined remains uncertain and still clouded in mystery–but it is probably a combination of nature and nurture, the result of a complex interplay of factors (which may include hormones, including those that develop during gestation; genetics; brain structure and hardwiring; and environmental influences).

Mr. Cain’s position–what he calls his “gut instinct”–is rather less nuanced. His view seems to be that, as Morgan himself pointed out, a person–often in his teens–simply decides one day that he will be gay. And that decision, apparently, is enough to completely alter a person’s desire for one sex, replacing it with the desire for the other sex. But that seems rather simplistic and improbable. After all, gays have been the objects of ridicule and hate for much of human history (thankfully that’s beginning to change). Given all that, why would anyone choose to be gay like the rest of us choose which shirt we’ll wear in the morning or which flavor of ice cream we’ll eat at night?

Then there was Cain’s answer on abortion.

According to Cain, he believes life begins at conception. When it comes to abortions there should be no rape or incest exceptions. But–and it’s a mighty big but–“it comes down to it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision.” Cain then went on to say this: “So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.”

To add to the confusion, Cain then put out a statement saying, “I am 100 percent pro-life. End of story.”

Not quite.

Over at the indispensible web site, Tina Korbe documents the different, sometimes contradictory, statements Cain has made on abortion over the years. If you can discern a coherent position, then give yourself a gold star.

Abortion is not the only issue in which Mr. Cain has had to walk back from his previous claims; he’s done the same thing on his (unconstitutional) statement that if he were president he would never appoint a person of the Muslim faith to his cabinet or the federal bench, as well as on freeing terrorists for hostages (he was both for it and against it within a 12 hour period).

What we’re seeing from Mr. Cain is how he reasons in public on complex moral and political issues. And it’s not reassuring. That doesn’t mean that Cain isn’t a likeable fellow; he is. And it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have good instincts on public policy matters; he might. But he’s also a man who doesn’t seem to have thought through in any depth many of the issues he speaks out on. On top of all that, he has shown himself to be alarmingly ignorant on foreign policy issues.

For most people, these things aren’t problematic. We all have different lives to lead and different interests to pursue. But when you declare your candidacy for president, people have a right to expect a certain level of preparedness, a de minimus understanding of the issues, and the ability to offer coherent arguments in order to explain and defend one’s position. Herman Cain falls short on each of these counts. And it’s one of the reasons he won’t win the GOP nomination.