Nov 10, 2011

NYT Mag - Gettin' Lulzy with Herman Cain

From this Sunday's NYT Mag - On the Ropes with Herman Cain

In October, Cain had to undo damage from the following: a suggestion to put up an electrified fence on the Mexican border, statements endorsing a woman’s right to choose, an apparent unfamiliarity with the terms “right of return” and “neoconservative,” a tentative thumbs-up to negotiating with Al Qaeda for prisoners and news stories of a completely mismanaged campaign.

That was before things got tough. Now allegations of sexual harassment have drowned out pretty much anything else related to Herman Cain. And if that’s in any way a blessing, it’s only because it diverted attention from what may have been some serious violations of campaign-finance laws.


The Web site of J. D. Gordon Communications, the firm founded by Cain’s campaign spokesman, J. D. Gordon, offers, among its services, “crisis communications.” It notes that “timely and accurate responses to a crisis have never been more important to success.” Given the way Gordon has handled Cain’s latest crisis communications, perhaps Guantánamo Bay, where Gordon was the Navy spokesman, should be seen in a new light. 


Let us pause here to make a necessarily severe assessment: to say that Herman Cain has an imperfect grasp of policy would be unfair not only to George W. Bush in 1999 but also to Britney Spears in 1999. Herman Cain seems like someone who, quite frankly, has never opened a newspaper.

But I suspect Cain’s flubs are unrelated to intelligence. In 2010, Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute set off a lively debate by suggesting conservatives had fallen prey to “epistemic closure,” a fancy way of saying that they were getting all their information and opinions exclusively from one another. This may or may not be true of the conservative movement. But it is certainly true of Herman Cain.

“I can honestly say that if I hadn’t been on the radio, I wouldn’t have been as familiar with the issues as I am now,” Cain has written. “I believe that having that program was God’s way of forcing me to understand the critical issues confronting our nation.”

In short, Cain’s briefings on politics came from heated right-wing callers on talk radio. “Epistemic closure” is probably too mild a term for such conditions.


Cain likes to tell his audience that “the voice of the people is more powerful than the voice of the media.” In fact, he likes to tell them this right after dropping everything for a television interview ...

Cain also likes to tell his audience that callers to his show went from “concerned” to “frightened” for the nation’s future. This, too, is true. More than any other candidate, Cain has managed to connect to those Americans — yet, unlike Sarah Palin, he has done it by unleashing optimism rather than bitterness. He can articulate a crowd’s worst fears — America is falling apart, weakening in the world, suffering economic carnage — and then reassure everyone that, no worries, we can fix it. If any candidate were able to relate to voters in this way and have a clue what he or she was talking about (there, in Cain’s case, is the rub), that person would be unstoppable.

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