Herman Cain No More

herman cain abc planHerman Cain is no longer a candidate for President. First accusations of serial harassment of women. Then a 13-year affair, involving travel and money and midnight phone calls concealed from his wife. Cain’s claims that people are out to get him, from the left or from the right, convinced nobody. He got himself.

But Herman Cain was never a viable candidate. Even if he had been a model husband, Cain should never have been discussed seriously as a possible President.

Herman Cain worked himself up from poverty to enormous wealth, he was hired by a national organization to lobby their interests, and he became a popular spokesman for conservative causes. Those successes are admirable, but not sufficient qualifications to be President.

An American President must understand business and the economy. The most immediate issues facing our nation right now are macro-economic: increasing poverty and inequality; persistent unemployment; an unwieldy tax system; uncertainties about investing; global competition; a housing crisis. No simple plan will be sufficient to deal with the complex, interrelated issues of our changing world economy.

Cain never showed any ability to oversee a national economy. The utter simplicity of Cain’s “9-9-9” economic plan attracted a lot of attention. But he didn’t understand his own plan. When he talked in October with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd about it, Cain produced nonsense. He said about a family of four with an income of $50,000, “Today under the current system, they will pay over $10,000 in taxes assuming standard deductions and standard exemptions.”

In fact, using those assumptions, such a family would pay under $800 in income taxes, and about $3800 in payroll taxes, under normal circumstances. Since the SS withholding tax rate has been temporarily lowered from 6.2% to 4.2%, that family’s payroll taxes would be only $2800. Under Cain’s plan, their federal taxes would be $4500, and their sales tax payments would be additional thousands. This is exactly what economists of the left and right have agreed: most people would pay more taxes and rich people much less.

Cain’s “9-9-9” plan would represent a radical change in our economic system. No more deductions for mortgages, no more exemptions for children, and an unprecedented federal sales tax would fundamentally shift economic policy. Cain never demonstrated that he had any idea what his plan really means. “9-9-9” is not a serious policy; it is an advertising gimmick with untried ideas, a marketing slogan for the brand “Cain”.

If Cain at least looked like he had something to say about the economy, he couldn’t even maintain that pretense when the subject went beyond the US borders. He worried about China developing a nuclear capability, when they have had the bomb since 1964; he couldn’t figure out what to say about the Libyan revolution when interviewed at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and then a couple of days later, talked about the Taliban in Libya; at the so-called national security debate among the Republican candidates, Cain said nothing about foreign policy that a high school student couldn’t have said.

steve hochstadt

How did this happen? How could someone so unqualified to lead our country become a front-runner, even for a day, among Republican Presidential candidates? Cain could talk the ideological talk of the right wing. After years of giving motivational speeches for the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, he could say the correct phrases and repeat the correct slogans. He just needed a script, prepared and paid for by others, that he could deliver with enthusiasm, in exchange for a lot of money.

Is that enough to be President? Are the simple ideas that Herman Cain has been offering over the past few months so impressive that anyone who can say them deserves to be President?

We have seen this all before. Sarah Palin made an enormous splash as a national candidate, because she too made an attractive spokeswoman for sound-bite versions of conservative ideas. She could speak the average person’s language. Then it turned out that she couldn’t speak any other language. She didn’t know anything about Russia, which she could see from her porch, much less about Africa, China, or the euro. She didn’t read and didn’t care. She figured, as Cain did, that a couple of months of tutoring by some “experts” would give her everything she needed to know, in case she was faced with a revolution in multiple Arab countries, the possible bankruptcy of European nations, or a nuclear Iran.

Steve HochstadtPalin and Cain are not foolish. They recognized that the elemental ideas of the Tea Party supporters could be exploited by slick slogans and political gimmicks. And like the other right-wing favorites, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, that’s all they had.

The rest of us deserve more than self-promoters and their gimmicks. We need serious candidates.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives 

Published by the LA Progressive on December 6, 2011
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About Steve Hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (2004) and Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich (2012), both from Palgrave Macmillan. He writes a weekly column for the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier and blogs for the History News Network. "His latest work is presented at www.stevehochstadt.com."