In a Republican presidential field that is low on personality Herman Cain is an entertaining diversion. The pizza magnate has a charismatic style and is a good speaker. He also knows a few things about the foolishness of government intervention into the marketplace. But it appears that he is reading out of Sarah Palin’s playbook when it comes to coping with his shortcomings.
In a profile of the candidate in yesterday’s Washington Post, Cain says that those who have had the temerity to point out his almost complete ignorance about foreign affairs and security policy (not an unimportant point to make about someone who aspires to be commander-in-chief), like conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer are a manifestation of the of the gulf “between the establishment and the “real world.” This is the same defense of her lack of seriousness that was made by Sarah Palin in December when she too criticized the sage Krauthammer for expecting her to be “hoity toity.”
Populism is an interesting tactic to use against out of touch Washington liberals but it doesn’t work when candidates employ it as a defense of ignorance. Krauthammer is as far from official Washington’s idea of conventional wisdom as either Cain or Palin. But he is spot on when it comes to spotting candidates who lack not only the qualifications to deal with serious issues but the ability to even fake it.
Cain is an obvious example of the latter. In the Post profile, he attempts to excuse his astonishing gaffe in which he revealed that he had no idea what the “right of return” meant in Middle East politics when asked about it by Chris Wallace on Fox News:
“It would have helped if he would have said Palestinian right of return,” said Cain, adding, “Return to the bar? Return home?” Cain said he was focused in the interview on pronouncing Benjamin Netanyahu’s “name right.” He is currently reading a book on Israel.
Does he think that is supposed to reassure us that he has the faintest idea of what he’s talking about? He also stands by his comment in the first GOP presidential debate in South Carolina in which he said he had no opinion about the future conduct of the war in Afghanistan but would “listen to experts.” He says he’ll let the country know what he plans to do sometime between Election Day in 2012 and his inauguration!
If Sarah Palin runs, we may get a more full-blown test of the efficacy of using populism as cover for a lack of attention to the hard-core details of issues and presidential demeanor. But until that happens, we’ll just have to content ourselves with catching up with Herman Cain’s reading list.