In the past few days, Herman Cain has been taking heavy duty flack both here (from Alana and Pete) and elsewhere over comments he made during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan in which he completely contradicted himself on abortion. His simultaneous defense of “choice” and a “pro-life” position enraged pro-life activists. It’s also given the rest of the public good reason to doubt Cain’s capacity to understand the issues.
But what’s really interesting about this is how this latest embarrassment for Cain illustrates the heightened scrutiny he’s been receiving since his poll numbers rose when compared to the indifference with which his comments were greeted when he was just a curiosity. As it happens, Cain made the exact same mistake back in July when he appeared on Fox Business Channel’s John Stossel Show. It’s one thing to claim to be both pro-choice and pro-life once. To say the same thing months later demonstrates not only that he doesn’t understand the issue but also that he is not particularly educable.
The Stossel show sticks in my mind for a good reason. I took part in one of the segments devoted to his ignorance of foreign policy. Rather than deal with his mistakes, Cain took the usual escape hatch chosen by career politicians when he tried to turn the discussion around on me and say that I was showing bad manners by calling him out on his many astonishing gaffes that showed he had no idea what he was talking about. As it happens, he’s incorporated one bit of our off-camera conversation into his subsequent explanations of his foreign policy foolishness. I pointed out to him that understanding the threat from Iranian nukes and the Palestinian right of return was not the same thing as some foreign policy trivial quiz in which he could be quizzed on who was the president of Uzbekistan. Since then, he has taken to joking about the whole thing by claiming that he doesn’t know who the president of “Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan” is. Funny. But a man who is so arrogant that he thinks he ought not to be required to have even a passing acquaintance with the great struggles of our time to qualify for the presidency may have more in common with Barack Obama than he thought.
But as ridiculous as that was, his gaffe about abortion back in July simply stunned me as well as everyone else in the studio at the time. It’s bad enough to be ignorant about foreign policy. It’s another thing entirely to act as if you don’t know the difference between the two sides in the abortion struggle. To have repeated that astounding piece of foolishness makes you question not so much his reading habits as his basic intelligence.
Herman Cain is an engaging figure whose unflappability and upbeat temperament has shown him to good advantage in all of the debates up until this week when his inability to defend his 9-9-9 tax plan was exposed. But the abortion gaffe, like his foreign policy misnomers, also exposes him as perhaps the least knowledgeable or thoughtful candidate for president in recent memory. As such, he’s not merely a poor choice for the presidency, but must be reckoned unqualified for high office of any kind.