In a week in which Herman Cain was not beset with multiple claims of sexual harassment and seeking to blame all his troubles on a nefarious plot by Rick Perry, we might instead be talking about the Godfather Pizza CEO’s latest foreign policy gaffe. But though the two stories appear to be unrelated, even his loyalists should be pondering whether this disconnect between Cain and reality on many issues is in some way related to the way he has mishandled the news about the sexual harassment charges.
As for the gaffe, in an interview on PBS with Judy Woodruff on Monday, the Republican presidential candidate was asked whether he considered China a potential military threat. Though his affirmative answer to the question was correct in my opinion, he lost whatever little credibility that judgment might have gotten by claiming that China has “indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability.” While it is possible that a great many other Americans don’t know that the Chinese exploded their first nuclear weapon 47 years ago, it’s also true that surveys of historical knowledge also show that many think the battle of Gettysburg was fought during World War Two. But would you really want to elect any of those people president even if they knew how to sell pizza? It also makes you wonder what other events in world history that have occurred since 1964 that Cain missed (note to Herman: the Berlin Wall fell and Francisco Franco is still dead).
Cain is not merely unembarrassed by his ignorance or his inability to articulate the difference between “pro-life” and “choice” on abortion. He’s taken to treating these gaps in what ordinary Americans consider to be a normal body of knowledge for an educated adult as a point of pride about which we are invited to share a laugh with the candidate about the silliness of pointy-headed intellectuals who expect him to know this stuff. The sort of low-end populism that treats a grasp of policy as if it were a junior high pop quiz on algebra always has a certain appeal and it’s not surprising that a lot of people are prepared to laugh along with him.
Whether the harassment charges are true or not — and if we ever hear from those who made the accusations even some of those assuming there’s nothing to it but racism or political bias may change their minds — the arrogance with which he has refused to deal with them seems vaguely familiar to those who have watched him airily dismiss complaints about his lack of understanding of foreign policy or his inability to logically defend his tax plans.
Cain had to know that sooner or later these charges were out there waiting to be revealed but the candidate never made an effort to adequately explain them or even to keep his story straight about what happened. But rather than admit mistakes or to get ahead of the story and get it all out for the public to digest, Cain has prevaricated and now attempted to shift the story with a fanciful charge that it’s all the fault of Rick Perry and his staff.
To him, all questions about his record or his behavior are to be laughed at or ignored. Any person who wants to run for the presidency has to have a healthy ego but the sort of self-regard that Cain has demonstrated during this campaign is another thing entirely. His sense of entitlement is so great that those who support him are reduced to the idea that he can be taught about policy once he’s in the Oval Office. But given the sorry show that he and his staff are putting on this week the chances of that happening are getting slimmer every day.