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In Defense of the “Establishment”

Here’s a link to an interview with Herman Cain on Libya. It’s painful to watch –worse, in some respects, than Rick Perry’s “oops” moment in last week’s debate. There’s no need to pile on Cain, whose campaign is in the early stages of a collapse. Let me instead make a point about the importance of competence and professionalism in politics.

Let me rise in defense of the “establishment.”

It was clear months ago Cain wasn’t up to the challenge of running for president. On some issues he was uninformed (like the Palestinian “right of return” and our war strategy in Afghanistan); on others he embraced stands that were unconstitutional (saying he would impose a “loyalty proof” on Muslim Americans and not appoint Muslims to his cabinet or a federal judgeship based solely on their religion); and on still others he embraced mutually contradictory positions (see his comments on abortion and trading GITMO prisoners for hostages). No matter; for some conservatives, Cain was the real deal, “authentic,” the antithesis of the slick, establishment politician. His slip-ups made him more appealing because they made him more human, more like us.

That line of argument is about out of steam.

What we’re (re)learning is that substance matters and mastery of issues is something to be prized, that governing experience can be a virtue and sloppiness and shallowness can be costly. And I’ll add this gentle reminder as well: not everyone for whom the conservative “establishment” has concerns is, based simply on those concerns, worthy of praise. Even conservatives living in the Beltway, as alien and removed as they are from “real” America, might be able to detect flawed candidates when they see them; and they may even be able to resist the temptation to pretend those flaws are really strengths and mediocrity is really excellence.

 


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