Call it the Cain canon.
Starting in 2005, Herman Cain has penned a weekly syndicated column. Week after week, he shares his opinions on the political issues and policies driving the news. The portrait that emerges from reading them over the years is consistent with the charismatic figure who has captured the momentum in the GOP presidential race. With the column’s common-sense attitude, blunt phrases, and occasional jokes, you can practically hear Cain saying the words.
Sometimes he has said the words: “sneak-a-taxes” and the Chilean model both have column cameos. And while Cain doesn’t shy from hammering away at politicians he dislikes and policies he opposes, he also notes that “hope and optimism, not fear, motivate and inspire voters” — a statement sure to ring true to anyone following his candidacy. His goofiness is present in some columns: “Fighting liberalism while playing by their rules is like challenging Superman to a bullet-deflecting contest and the winner gets a date with Lois Lane. You will lose, and Superman gets the girl.” Before he became the pizza candidate (“DEEP DISH!”), Cain embraced his reputation, writing, “I will bet anyone a pepperoni pizza on that prediction.”
Lacking political experience, Cain doesn’t have a record for voters to paw through. But in these columns, he took positions time after time on issues ranging from health care to entitlement reform to TARP. There may not quite be 999 positions worth noting, but here are twelve key components of Cain’s political and policy outlook:
Social Security. During the debates, Cain has touted the “Chilean model” when speaking about how to reform Social Security. Turns out that he’s been fascinated by Chile’s system for a while: “Personal account plans have worked in . . . the country of Chile for well over 20 years, and have provided their beneficiaries rates of return hundreds of times higher than Social Security over the same period,” Cain wrote in 2005. It was just one of many columns he would write arguing for Pres. George W. Bush’s proposal to introduce personal Social Security accounts.
His first mention of Barack Obama also came in reference to Bush’s Social Security reform. One of Bush’s arguments for his reform was that the lower African-American life-expectancy rate meant that under the current system, African-Americans received less from the program than others did. Cain quoted then-Senator Obama saying, “The notion that we would cynically use those disparities as a rationale for dismantling Social Security as opposed to talking about how are we going to close the health disparities gap that exists, and make sure that African-American life expectancy is as long as the rest of this nation . . . is stunning to me.” Cain wasn’t persuaded, writing in response that “Black Democrats apparently believe that enacting a new government program will allow African-Americans to live longer. Now that’s stunning to me.”
Criticizing Republicans. Cain may have been a big fan of Bush’s Social Security reform plans, but he was not keen on Bush’s spending. “When we elected a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress, we thought the runaway spending spree of our money would stop. The excess spending did not stop,” Cain drily noted. In 2006, he lambasted Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” blaming it for leading to No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, and saying the philosophy had “completely betrayed conservative voters and their decades of grassroots activism.” In the column, written days after the GOP had lost the House, Cain spared no words: “Compassionate conservatism failed America and cost Republicans control.” In a shot at Karl Rove and then–RNC chair Ken Mehlman, Cain wrote two months prior to the election, “What Rove and Mehlman fail to realize, and have failed to realize this entire year, is that conservatives are upset with House and Senate leadership because they have squandered their majority status and failed to enact substantive policy solutions on the domestic issues.”
Social Issues. Cain rarely dove into social issues in his columns, most of which were centered on the economy. But in 2006, he identified two issues that “liberals will fight to the political death for” and were part of “the foundation of their beliefs.” The first was high taxes, which served the Left’s “class warfare” motives. The second issue was the “fundamental liberal position . . . [of] federally guaranteed abortion on demand, protected by Roe v. Wade, and its new cousin issue, expanded and federally funded embryonic stem cell research.”
Earmarks. Long before it was tea-party-trendy to despise earmarks, Cain was attacking the practice. In 2005, Cain noted that voters weren’t happy that too often Republican and Democratic politicians were “the best of friends when trading votes for bridges in the Alaskan wilderness, rainforests in Iowa, and increases in other discretionary spending.” Later that year, Cain once again blasted earmarks, particularly Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” in a column entitled “Leadership to Nowhere.” In 2007 he sighed about the newest way politicians were getting their earmarks: “Instead of writing their pork projects into the upcoming spending bills, members of Congress are calling federal agency and department heads, demanding that earmarks designated in prior spending bills are fully funded again this year.”
TARP. This won’t earn Cain a lot of hugs from the tea-party movement: He was a staunch supporter of TARP. “The nation’s financial system has a severe migraine headache. We can take our $700 billion in aspirin now, or wait for a $700 trillion surgery if the economy tanks,” Cain wrote in late September 2008. In early October, he criticized those who had opposed TARP: “Some people are still so angry about the crisis and how we got here that they still cannot accept the fact that to do nothing was not an option. Yes I am still angry, but I have accepted the painful reality of a $700 billion economic medication.” Later that month, he defended the program once again, specifically the resulting government ownership of some banks, railing against “the free market purists [who] want you to believe that this is the end of capitalism as we know it.” Responding to such critics, Cain argued that “the [bank] ownership by the taxpayers is going to be relatively small and nowhere near the amount needed to be called nationalization.”
Class Warfare. Long before tax breaks on corporate jets were even a target on President Obama’s radar, Cain was adamantly opposed to any class-warfare-inspired policies or rhetoric. In one particularly fierce 2006 column, he compared then-senators Joe Biden (D., Del) and Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) and then-governor Bill Richardson (D., N.M.) to the terrorist group Hezbollah for their attacks against Walmart, dubbing the trio “Hezbocrats.” He also hit the mainstream media for having a “class-warfare playbook” in 2008, when John McCain’s inability to recall how many houses he owned was a hot news topic. After blasting the media, Cain gave this free advice to the McCain campaign: “If any of John McCain’s staff is reading this article, please give him a cheat sheet on the price of a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. I know those questions are coming, because they are in the earlier chapters of the class warfare playbook.” Tip to reporters: If you’re trying to produce a gotcha Cain moment, don’t ask him about the price of bread, milk, or eggs.
His Christian faith. Cain told the Associated Press in an interview last week that while he doesn’t “wear my Christian faith . . . on my forehead,” Rick Perry “is not the only Christian conservative in this race.” In a 2010 column, he stressed his belief that the United States was a Christian nation. “The Founders of this nation did not put ‘In God We Trust’ on all of our currency by accident. It was a bedrock belief, and it still is today despite the liberals’ attempt to have people believe otherwise,” Cain wrote. (In fact, “In God We Trust” was first added to coins during the Civil War, according to the U.S. Treasury.) In a Christmas column that same year, he made the case that Jesus was “the perfect conservative.” Cain’s arguments included that Christ “led without a mandate,” “never collected an unemployment check” during his three years devoted to preaching, and “helped the poor without one government program.”
How Cain viewed his current GOP rivals. How Cain views Mitt Romney is another article (literally), but here’s one sample quote from 2007: “The Massachusetts [health-care] plan is pure socialism.” In 2006, he blasted Rick Santorum, writing, “Santorum unconscionably endorsed liberal Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), who was in a primary race with conservative Congressman Pat Toomey. Specter won the primary, but Santorum ultimately paid the price.” Newt Gingrich also got a mention that year, although it was favorable, as someone who had made “a compelling argument in a recent opinion column that the global scope of the war against Islamic terrorists renders it the Third World War.” Gingrich gets another shout-out in 2007 as someone who had developed “market-based solutions” concerning health-care, although he had “not yet declared his candidacy” for the 2008 nomination. In 2009, noting that the Senate was backing away from passing cap-and-trade, Cain observed that “voters ‘melted the phone lines to Congress’ as Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) stated on Fox News last week.” A year later, he mentioned that “Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) has already introduced repeal legislation [to Obamacare], even though it will go nowhere with this Congress and this president.”
Taxes. Cain only recently developed the 9-9-9 plan, so it goes unmentioned in his old columns. However, he is not shy about his affection for the Fair Tax, which he still plans to ultimately introduce (9-9-9 will be used in between our current tax system and the implementation of the Fair Tax). In early 2008, Cain was still irritated by a comment the “noted and respected journalist George Will” had made the previous August, calling “the FairTax believers who supported Mike Huckabee . . . ‘those FairTax people.’” Will, Cain complained, had “made it sound as if the people who helped Mike Huckabee finish an unexpected second among Republican presidential contenders had just gotten off the ‘short bus.’ You know, those special needs people who don’t get to ride with the political elites.” After pointedly noting that Huckabee had just won the Iowa caucuses, Cain praised the Fair Tax as the “biggest cure for our tax code insanity on the political table.”
And while the 9 percent national sales tax Cain would impose has many Republicans griping about how, like the VAT tax, it offers Democrats too easy a chance to find another way to hike taxes on the public, Cain himself was adamantly opposed to the VAT. “A VAT is not a single new tax. It is several new sneak-a-taxes,” he wrote in 2010. “The doubly outrageous aspect of the VAT is that it is on top of all the other state and federal taxes we pay.” Interestingly, American Enterprise Institute economic scholar Alan Viard has argued that one of the 9 percent taxes in Cain’s plan is more accurately described as a VAT rather than a corporate income tax.
Race. Referring to the percentage of African-Americans who had voted for Bush in 2004, Cain hopefully noted that “when voters hear the truth, versus distortion and lies, they are willing to support conservative candidates.” In 2008, Cain criticized a Wall Street Journal editorial for saying that then-candidate Barack Obama had played the “race card.” The Journal was criticizing Obama’s response to a reporter who had asked him what he thought of this barb from Geraldine Ferraro: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” “Obama did not play the race card,” Cain insisted, “he simply responded to a racial comment by a high-profile Hillary Clinton supporter.”
In 2009, Cain wrote emotionally about going through an IRS audit, an experience that left him with a “more helpless feeling than when I had to ride in the back of the bus growing up in Atlanta in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, because at least I could choose to walk or catch a ride with a friend when I got sick of the painted notice in the front of the bus that read ‘Whites seat from front, Colored seat from rear.’” Cain also defended the Tea Party from charges of racism, writing in 2010 that he had recently attended a tea-party rally, and not a single person had raised their hand when he asked for “all of the white supremacists and KKK members to raise their hands,” an experiment that he concludes was not exactly a “scientific test.”
Health care. Concerned about the burgeoning costs associated with Medicare and Medicaid, Cain recommended that government-provided health care shift from “defined benefits to a system of defined contributions” — a key component of Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicare voucher system. (Cain also recommended that employers make the same switch.) In December that same year, Cain optimistically wrote that Republicans losing the House might make them “find the intestinal fortitude to speak candidly about market-based solutions to rising health care costs.” In 2007, Cain argued for the government to make all health-care plans (not just those purchased by employers) tax-deductible. Two years later, in a column headlined “Seven Ways to Make Health Care in America Better,” Cain highlighted solutions developed by the Pacific Research Institute’s Sally Pipes for improving the health-care system without introducing Obamacare.
Tea Party. From the beginning of the movement, Cain was a fan. In 2009, he advised readers to “attend one of the tax day tea parties around the country on April 15, 2009!” and noted in a later column that he himself had marked the occasion at a Tax Day Tea Party event in Las Vegas. In August of that year, when town halls were roiling from tea partiers, Cain mounted a vigorous defense of the movement, mentioning that he had given the keynote speech at a dozen tea-party events.
“The sentiment being expressed by people in attendance is not Astroturf or manufactured emotions as described by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid,” Cain wrote of tea-party rallies. “The people are not wackos, paid plants, extremists or any of the other names used by the Democrats and some in the media to try and marginalize, demean, discourage and intimidate ‘We the People.’” In February 2010, Cain saw the Tea Party delivering a bright future. “The citizen activist movement that is growing across this country is no gimmick,” he wrote. “It is getting bigger and bigger, and promises to produce even more election surprises in November of 2010 similar to what happened recently in New Jersey and Massachusetts.”
Of course, just such another “election surprise” is exactly what the self-described “dark horse” candidate of 2012 is hoping Tea Party voters will propel him to in the upcoming primary. Whether that happens will depend on a variety of factors — including what they think when diving into Cain’s positions over the years.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.