Don’t get me wrong, I like Herman Cain. I like “Imagine There’s No Pizza”: It would be the greatest presidential campaign song since “Tippecanoe And Tyler, Too.” I like his sunny disposition: Mien can be determinative — it’s why Rick Santorum is right on almost everything, and going nowhere. I like Cain’s electrified fence gags, on the general principle that no sane person should climb into the straitjackets of the politically correct enforcers.
And yet, and yet. . . . The foreign policy, hostage-trading, abortion stuff is becoming more difficult to ignore. I don’t think Charles Krauthammer’s assertion that Cain’s “winging it” fully explains it, nor does the Pundette’s that he is “incoherent.” Cain’s boast that he can’t name the president of Beki-beki-beki-beki-beki-beki-stan gets closer to it. It’s a cute line, notwithstanding that parochial braggadocio is easier to carry off when you’re a soaring hyperpower rather than a multi-trillion-dollar sinkhole whose citizens’ future is increasingly mortgaged to foreigners of one degree of unsavoriness or another.
But the ’stan shtick is a glimpse of the greater truth – that there are whole areas of public policy in which he simply has no interest. None. You ask him a question and from the recesses of his mind swim up half-recalled phrases from some panel discussion he caught once long ago, and he hopes he grabs the conservative line (“I’m proud to stand by Israel,” “we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” “life begins at conception,” whatever) but just as often he doesn’t (with Gretchen Carlson this morning: “No, abortion should not be a part of the political discussion”).
His fans say he’s being set up with “Gotcha” questions. But these aren’t the Hoogivsastans way out on the fringe of the public policy map. They’re the first stops on the central thruway of American politics, and have been for most of Cain’s adult life. And it’s becoming harder to avoid the obvious truth that he hasn’t given them a moment’s thought.
It would be nice to have a candidate with a sunny demeanor who gets the urgency and understands the way fiscal insolvency, foreign affairs and social policy interact. But maybe from a talent pool of 200 million or so that’s an unreasonable expectation.