If it came from a different sort of political figure, I would assume that Herman Cain’s response to David Gregory’s neoconservatism question was simply an artful dodge. I get called a neocon every day (usually by people who type in ALL CAPS and think just one exclamation point might as well be none at all). I’ll often respond that “I’m not a neoconservative, at least not the way you seem to understand the term.” (Though sometimes I won’t be as delicate or diplomatic). In other words, when Cain says:
I’m not familiar with the neoconservative movement. I’m familiar with the conservative movement. And let me define what I mean by the conservative movement: less government, less taxes, more individual responsibility.
It’s possible though not altogether probable that he’s simply and deftly avoiding some gotchya word games by David Gregory. After all, it’s not remotely obvious to me that David Gregory actually knows what neoconservatism is either (by the way, I’ve long been in favor of ditching the term entirely because it obscures and distorts more than it clarifies). The mainstream media asks about neoconservatism because it sounds so much more intellectual and decorous than “ideologically blinkered warmonger.”
But Herman Cain’s not the kind of politician to play those kinds of games and even if he was it would be a bad idea for him to feign ignorance about foreign policy when he doesn’t have to. Already, he dodges a lot of questions by saying he needs to be briefed on the classified information first. As if, without classified briefings, he can’t form a general opinion of the war in Afghanistan.
So, what if he doesn’t know what neoconservatism is? Well, again, I think a lot of people don’t know what it is. But he sounds like he’s not even familiar with the word. What would that mean? Would it matter?
Well, it would certainly mean that he hasn’t been paying much attention to the foreign policy debates of the last 10 years. Even if you just read the occasional newspaper editorial or article in the Economist, you’d have heard the word. He says he pays close attention to George Will and Charles Krauthammer, who, as Ben Smith notes, disagree on a lot of foreign policy questions. They’ve also used the word neoconservative more than a few times over the last 10 years — an unavoidable necessity given the foreign policy debates of the last decade.
I think the basic takeaway of all this is that Herman Cain does not and has not spent a lot of time thinking or talking about foreign policy. But we knew this already. I think it matters, but given his basic instincts and philosophy