With months to go before the first vote is even cast, there is no way to accurately predict the outcome of the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary. Poll numbers shift with the wind, media attention on individual candidates is fleeting and sporadic, and fundraising levels are as variable as the price of gasoline, so anyone that claims to know with absolute certainty who can or cannot win at this point in the race is either one of two things – a clairvoyant or an imbecile. And, if there is any one candidate that demonstrates how rapidly things can change, it is the businessman from Georgia: Herman Cain.
A virtual unknown prior to May’s debate in South Carolina, Herman Cain began to gain notoriety, particularly within Tea Party circles, due to his very heated, very blatant, and very public denunciations of President Obama’s policy decisions, especially those relating to healthcare and the economy, over the past three years. Assisted by the most recent branch of mass media, social networking, Cain’s popularity was further boosted through the dissemination of online videos of him confronting former President Clinton about the then President’s push for universal healthcare. However, it was not until after Cain’s generally well-received performance at the South Carolina debate that his popularity truly exploded.
Before I delve into what made (and, to an extent, still makes) Cain such a popular candidate amongst conservatives, an examination of his personal background should be undertaken.
Coming from a modest background, Cain was raised in Georgia at a time when Jim Crow laws still had their stranglehold on the individual rights of racial minorities throughout the American South. Still, he worked diligently in school and eventually graduated from Morehouse College in 1967 with a degree in mathematics. From there, he worked within the Department of the Navy and continued his education at Purdue University. In 1971, he earned a Master of Science degree in computer science and was employed by The Coca-Cola Company as a business analyst.*
More recently, Herman Cain was awarded the Horatio Alger Award in 1996.* This award is granted to “community leaders who demonstrate individual initiative and a commitment to excellence; as exemplified by remarkable achievements accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance and perseverance over adversity.”* He has authored four books** with a fifth set to release in the near future,* and he also served as a talk show host on News Talk 750 WSB until February of this year.*
While these factors alone make for a generally impressive résumé, there are two factors that are almost entirely exclusive to Herman Cain as a candidate out of the whole of the Republican field: his experience as a business leader and his political experience.
Firstly, his business experience – it is a common complaint amongst conservatives that many politicians, President Obama included, have little if any private sector experience. To them, this means that most politicians lack the necessary qualifications to be “put in charge of” the economy and the U.S. Treasury. Fortunately for Cain, he should not face any criticism of that sort. In fact, the conservatives that usually levy those accusations against public officials are quite likely to lend their support to Cain.
Cain’s career in the private sector far exceeds the rest of fellow contenders, both in length and success, with the only possible challenger being Mitt Romney. Ever since being employed by Pillsbury Company in 1977, Herman Cain has displayed the unmistakable ability to produce profits through his successful attempts at improving one of Pillsbury’s struggling chains of Burger King franchises. After being named the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, another chain owned by Pillsbury Company, and producing profits just fourteen months after taking the helm, Cain eventually led a movement of private investors to purchase Godfather’s Pizza from Pillsbury, a goal that he also achieved.* Although he stepped down in 2002 as CEO and President of Godfather’s Pizza, the chain he left behind now operates across forty states from over 600 locations.* Over the years, Cain has also served on the board of directors of such industry giants as Aquila, Inc., Nabisco, Reader’s Digest, and others.* With a net worth of approximately $18 million, there are few that are willing to argue that Cain is not, at the very least, fiscally savvy in our current economic system and is more than able to balance a budget.
However, it is Cain’s political experience that truly separates him from the other Republican candidates because, quite opposite from his business experience, he virtually has none. Having never held elected office, Herman Cain is unique from the other candidates in the sense that he is the only one that can claim without much opposition that he is a “political outsider” in the most literal of terms.* Coupled with the recent sentiment within the Tea Party and other conservative groups to get rid of “career politicians” and “vote them all out” of Washington, what was once considered a political handicap is now a political asset. The same lack of political experience that conservatives once criticized then Senator Barack Obama for in 2008 is now being lauded entering into the 2012 campaign season, though the vastly different levels of business experience between the two should still be noted. Does this mean that conservatives are acting hypocritically? Not necessarily – it simply means that the values of many conservatives have changed in recent years, and something that they once considered a sign of political inefficiency is now viewed as an additional safeguard to their individual liberties.
Besides his personal qualifications, Cain’s policy positions have also struck a chord with members of the new, capitalist-oriented right. On several occasions, Herman Cain has described himself as the “free market” candidate supporting such positions as a return to the gold standard,* the implementation of the “Fair Tax”* (a national sales tax on all items excepting those deemed necessary for survival by the Department of Health and Human Services), and the elimination of federal income taxes on individuals and corporations.* Regarding foreign policy, Cain claims that he is supportive of a “strong national defense” that involves continued aid to Israel and involvement in Afghanistan until our military leaders decide otherwise.* As for his domestic social policies, policies that are becoming increasingly irrelevant to many on the right when compared to economic policies, Herman Cain is staunchly pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, supporting both a complete ban on abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, while also supporting President Clinton’s “Defense of Marriage Act.” On the issue of gun ownership, Cain has stated that he believes it should be a state issue.*
Additionally, Cain possesses a generally limited view on the proper scope of the government, particularly the federal government. Over the years, he has pushed such reductions in federal authority as the gradual draw down of the Department of Education’s influence over state and local school systems, the eventual abolition of Social Security in favor of privatized solutions for retirement, the abolition of public welfare programs, the repeal of Obamacare, the privatization of Medicare, and the relaxing of restrictions on oil drilling in Alaska’s ANWR region.
At first glance, Herman Cain would appear to be the manifestation of a conservative’s dream candidate. He portrays himself as a candidate directly in line with the three main political objectives of the Tea Party Movement – “Free Markets, Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government” – and appears to support policies that validate those assertions. Nonetheless, prudence and experience remind rational voters that focusing on a candidate’s talking points and accepting them at face value is no way to choose the future leader of the free world. Even Cain’s most ardent supporters must concede that it is such unconscious behavior by a majority of our population that placed President Obama (and his predecessors) into power which consequently placed the United States of America in the position that we find it today.
Simply put, Herman Cain, like all the Republican candidates, has certain aspects of his character which are inconsistent with his character as a whole, or at least how it appears on the surface. From Ron Paul to Mitt Romney, every candidate across the political spectrum has at least some flaw that should be examined openly and honestly if Republican voters are ever going to come to a rational decision. Cain is certainly no exception.
While the most devoted of researchers have listed out several objections to Cain’s policies since the beginning, after the South Carolina debate, support of Herman Cain was relatively high and these objections were rarely discussed outside of groups that were predisposed to question newcomers to the presidential primary in the first place. During the debate in New Hampshire, however, Cain made some rather inflammatory comments concerning Muslims that drew some rational criticism. As one of the moderators pointed out, Cain originally stated that he would not appoint a Muslim to his Cabinet, but later retracted that statement and said instead that he would want to check their loyalty first: “A lot of Muslims are not totally dedicated to this country.”* While it is only sensible to ensure that anyone permitted to hold one of the highest executive positions in this country is loyal to it and the fundamental laws that govern it, singling out Muslims raised concerns of prejudice from unaligned Independents and the more libertarian elements within his own party. Cain later apologized to Muslims for any offense that his comments may have caused, but he has not backed down from his defense of specified litmus tests for Muslims in his Cabinet.* Since the New Hampshire debate, Cain has lost the position that he once enjoyed following the South Carolina debate, but this issue alone is probably not wholly to blame. The entrance of additional candidates like Michele Bachmann into the race likely played an additional role in pulling some support from Cain.
Even so, his relationship with Independents and Muslim Americans is not the only concern that American voters may have questions about. Many have raised questions as to whether Cain is actually the “political outsider” that he and his supporters claim him to be. While Cain has never held political office, that by no means indicates that he has never attempted to hold one. In actuality, Cain has run for public office twice, once for the office of U.S. Senator in 2004 and the other time for the presidency in 2000.* Additionally, Cain acted as the senior economic advisor for Senator Dole’s attempt to defeat President Clinton during the 1996 election.*
While these activities are not legitimately concerning in and of themselves, it raises questions about Cain’s connection to the Republican Establishment. Admittedly, it is irrational for members of the Tea Party and the rest of the right to inherently despise any and all “career politicians.” After all, if a politician has a consistent record for fighting statism and attempting to reduce the size and influence of the government, then that politician is an asset and deserves support rather than condemnation. Connection to the Progressive and neoconservative factions leading the Republican Party and influencing its policies (i.e. the Republican Establishment), however, would be a rational concern for members of the right that are attempting to reform the Republican Party’s leadership. This is not proof that Cain is connected to the Republican Establishment, but it does mean that Cain must clearly, openly, and honestly separate himself entirely from any factions that could encourage a compromise in his rational political stances.
Nonetheless, Herman Cain may not even need to be directly associated with neoconservatives for one to claim that he has been influenced by neoconservatives. At a time when support for the continuance of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is waning, Cain remains insistent that any plan with the purpose of maintaining America’s national security may very well include the lasting deployment of our armed forces overseas. On several occasions, Cain has implied he would allow the generals to essentially define what America’s role should be overseas (as he only has “half the information” and can make no formal statement until being elected), which is ultimately a reversal of the original intent in the relationship between the constitutional Commander in Chief and military leadership.* The Founding Fathers concluded and repeatedly iterated that civilian leadership should be the ones to set the policy which the military would then seek to achieve; the military, in turn, should figure out the logistics of implementing that policy. Thus, the military would never rise to the role of actually governing this nation. Instead, the military serves as one of the subservient arms to the civilian leadership, both implementing its policies (when constitutional) and defending the nation as a whole when attacked. Essentially, this issue should not be one of pragmatism – our role overseas should be determined by what is right.
However, the foreign policy that Herman Cain offered at the New Hampshire debate was in stark contrast with the policy he offered in South Carolina. Cain’s foreign policy in South Carolina, in fact, was one of the rare instances of a truly rational foreign policy coming from any politician for an incredible lengthy period of time – even Congressman Ron Paul’s policy of blanket non-interventionism falls somewhat short as it does not allow for preemptive intervention, even when it is in the rational, long-term self-interests of the U.S. When creating a foreign policy, Cain argued, “We should start with, ‘What’s the objective?’ That’s number one. Secondly, ‘How does it relate to the interests of the United States of America?’ Thirdly, ‘Is there a plan for victory [and] how do you define that?’” Still, what he defines as the “interests of the United States of America” remains to be seen, and that alone could turn this incredible step toward a rational American foreign policy into just two more in the wrong direction. At the very least, these differing approaches to protecting America and her interests overseas demonstrate contradictory premises and conclusion. If, for example, the interests of the United States were truly the concern of his foreign policy, then he would not allow the opinions of his generals on defending foreign governments to determine those interests.
Some may ask, “Well, who can really say for sure what is in the best interests of the United States? Maybe Cain is right.” It is very true than men are not infallible and could therefore make errors in judgment, but how one approaches the process of identifying exactly what one’s own or one’s nation’s self-interests are is critical if they are to be rational. In order to do this, Cain must directly embrace the perspective of direct, rational selfishness when searching for the true self-interests of the United States, a sort of national egoism, rather than accepting the illogical doctrines of altruism which hold the contradictory belief that one’s self-interests are inherently found in the interests of others.
The final point of contention in Cain’s foreign policy suggests that he, regrettably, more closely aligns himself with the latter view of this country’s “self-interests” rather than the former, as exemplified by his declaration that the U.S. government should continue subsidizing Israel (along with other allies) and its national defense. While it is true that Israel is a (relatively) free nation in the Middle East and deserves general support from the U.S. for its actions toward defending itself, this support need not extend into monetary or military aid. As the strongest economic force in the region (a fact that is undoubtedly the result from its corresponding level of individual liberty) and the strongest military force as well, Israel does not need U.S. aid as so many neoconservatives try to suggest. Instead, this inexplicable call for foreign aid to the Israeli state is less of an actual concern for America’s well-being or its relationship with Israel and more the result of grandiose Progressive policies from the Republican Establishment and the religious right which has seemingly influenced Cain. Plus, as Israel is the only nation in the entire Middle East with nuclear capabilities, it is difficult to argue that Israel’s security is in enough jeopardy to warrant American aid.
When it comes to domestic social issues, Cain has raised the eyebrows amongst Independents yet again. No, it is not his stance on gay marriage, nor even considerably strong stance on abortion legislation, which is strict even by American standards on the issue. Instead, Herman Cain has created concern amongst Independents, and even members of the right, for his positions on two domestic issues: the PATRIOT Act and gun control.
Nearly ten years after the September 11th terrorist attacks and the creation of the “USA PATRIOT Act,” a cleverly devised acronym for a bill that stands in direct conflict with many traditional American values, many Americans have grown weary of the intrusive nature of the federal government in the name of national defense. While members of the left were originally the loudest opponents to the continuation of the Patriot Act, those same individuals have elected various politicians that have consistently voted to extend it. With the arrival of the Tea Party and the return of American ideal that one should not have to sacrifice privacy for security, the PATRIOT Act has lost favor and many Tea Party activists, among others, have openly expressed their desire to have the bill completely dismantled. Admittedly, while most Americans have not read the bill in entirety (though one can reasonably assume that Cain has not either), they fear both the known and unknown authority granted by it to the federal government. They need not read it in order to rationally despise it, however, as James Madison correctly pointed out in The Federalist, No. 62, “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that the cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” In any case, openly stating that “the PATRIOT Act is 90% right on”* could be a damaging political misstep for any politician to make.
As for the rights of gun ownership, criticism stems more from Cain’s refusal to pay the adequate lip service to the issue that most conservatives, new and old, expect from a potential nominee. Cain attempts to wash his hands of the issue by asserting that gun ownership is a state issue,* which would be true were he campaigning in Antebellum America, though he has yet to state how strongly (or weakly) he supports the rights of firearm owners in a general sense. Because the Bill of Rights (originally a restriction solely on the federal government) was incorporated to the states through the use of the 14th Amendment, the federal government has the authority and legal responsibility to see that such incorporation is adequately recognized at the state level. Since the President oversees the Department of Justice and ultimately gets to decide which cases to pursue, many conservative voters would appreciate a more clearly defined position from Herman Cain on this matter. Although the original intent of our Constitution was to keep gun regulation at the state level, the Fourteenth Amendment made federal citizenship (and the rights protected by it) superior to state citizenship, meaning that gun ownership is not state issue.
But, the most concerning aspects of Herman Cain’s policies are not his seemingly strained relationships with Muslim Americans, his foreign policy, his potentially too extensive conservative social policies regarding gay marriage and abortion, or even his stances on the above domestic polices. Instead, the economic policies of this “free market candidate” could ultimately be what lead to his downfall.
In 2008, Hermcan Cain came out very publicly in support of President Bush’s bailouts of financial institutions, known as TARP.* With the rise of the Tea Party, these bailouts became very unpopular in the minds of most Americans, especially since President Obama continued and expanded them by granting federal money to additional banks and auto manufacturers. When he began to draw criticism from free market advocates about his support of TARP, he altered his story and stated that he supports TARP in theory, but disagreed with the way it was executed.*
The problem is, TARP was a bad idea in theory (unless adherence Keynesianism is now held as the standard of “good” in economics). No, this does not mean that the taxpayers did not get a return on their investment, but it does mean that it was investment that they never should have been compelled to make. Rather than addressing the roots of the financial collapse, the federal government put a Band-Aid on the wound to stop it temporarily, but it took no actions to prevent it from occurring again. Rather than allowing the mixed economic system to finally collapse and instituting a truly free market system in its place, our mixed economy was propped up yet again at the expense of the individual through coercively obtained taxes, foreign debt, and printed money from the Federal Reserve. The fact of the matter is that when President Bush “abandoned free market principles, in order to save the free market,” it becomes impossible to accept that any candidate that agrees with the abandonment of free market principles to truly be a supporter of the free market. Only through the employment of doublethink can such contradictions be accepted, and unless Herman Cain comes out and rejects TARP as a whole, even in theory, then this will be a lasting stain on his legacy leading into the primaries.
Since the roots of the financial collapse were mentioned, they should also be discussed further. For nearly a century, the Federal Reserve has allowed the government to print a fiat currency without restriction by circumventing the U.S. Constitution through its legal status as a “private” institution. It prints the money at the request of Congress and then “loans” it to the federal government, thereby taxing every citizen through inflation and allowing the government to grow to its current unjustifiable size. This legacy is despicable, but it is one that Herman Cain is involved in.
In 1992, Herman Cain joined as one of the directors of the board for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and acted as chairman from 1995 to 1996 when he retired.* This is not the immediately concerning part – Alan Greenspan, conservative icon and former member of Ayn Rand’s inner circle, served as the director for the entire Federal Reserve for years and attempted to run it properly (which, unfortunately, cannot be done because its very existence conflicts with the principles of a free market). If, for example, Greenspan or Cain argued today that the Federal Reserve was unmanageable and should be ended, then their history of acting as the leadership of the Federal Reserve could be forgiven and their arguments granted that much more validity in the eyes of the public. Sadly, neither have made such an assertion.
Instead, Cain ignores the ultimate roots of statism in America’s mixed economic system and refuses to confront them directly. Yes, he said that he will not oppose an audit of the Federal Reserve should it survive the halls of Congress, but he should simply stand against the Federal Reserve altogether. If the United State is to ever actualize true free market system, and especially if the government is to be compelled to act in a fiscally responsible manner during following administrations, then the government’s ability to tax through inflation must be halted – the Federal Reserve must be ended. Since Herman Cain is unable or unwilling to accept this conclusion, he cannot honestly be called a “free market candidate.”
Regardless of his policies as a whole, Herman Cain’s candidacy does display the changing dynamic in American politics, if only on a few issues. A few years ago, it would have seemed hard to believe that calls for a return to the gold standard, for the complete privatization of Social Security and Medicare, and for the total abolition of the income tax could actually be taken seriously. Nonetheless, these sorts of positions are becoming increasingly common in the Republican Party, but improvement can certainly be made. The sooner Herman Cain and other candidates accurately identify all that a truly free market entails and consistently apply those same rational principles to social and foreign issues, the faster the government as a whole will shrink and liberty will be returned to the individual who so justly deserves it. Whether Cain will correct his errors is presently unclear, but provided that he continues to speak powerfully and passionately about reducing the size of the government and returning economic liberties to individuals, even if he is yet unsure on how to correctly do so, Herman Cain will undoubtedly remain a power player for this primary race for the foreseeable future.