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Opinion

Opinion

Cain stumbles are significant

November 24, 2011

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You likely remember the 3 a.m. phone call.

In 2008, the most effective line of attack his opponents mounted against candidate Barack Obama centered on the freshman senator’s lack of experience. An ad for Hillary Clinton famously implied that you did not want this callow naif answering the phone at a moment of pre-dawn crisis.

Though the country eventually decided it did, in fact, want Obama, the argument was valuable in that it forced the electorate to ask itself what kind of experience is necessary to a president. There is a corollary question that becomes more obvious and urgent with each passing day. It involves not quality of experience, but quality of mind.

On Monday, an editorial in the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader attacked Herman Cain for blowing off an interview with the paper. It seems that after video of Cain stumbling to articulate a position on Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel went viral last week, the candidate instituted a new rule: no video cameras in newspaper interviews.

A spokesman for the Cain campaign said this was because “videos are typically used for television and it’s a newspaper.” But as the editorial noted, videos are used for pretty much everything these days. It suggested Cain’s real problem lay not in the presence of cameras, but in the fact that “newspaper interviews tend to be longer and more in depth” and require answers that go beyond canned soundbites. Cain’s refusal to engage in that sort of rigorous give and take, said the paper, “gives the impression that he’s got something to hide.”

Cain capitulated that same day.

But the damage is done. The attack solidifies a perception that he does, indeed, have something to hide, i.e., the fact that once you get him past his talking points (“9-9-9” and fences to electrocute unsuspecting Mexicans) — he really has nothing to say.

That has become a disturbingly common thing in recent years. Sarah Palin considered “What do you read?” a gotcha question. Michele Bachmann thinks HPV vaccinations cause brain damage.

Now comes Cain mangling a basic question about foreign policy. He has claimed he simply paused to gather his thoughts, but anyone who has seen the video knows better. In his painful hemming, hawing and false starts, Cain comes across like a fifth-grader called up to the blackboard and wishing he had studied the night before. This is the same Cain who asked how to say delicious “in Cuban” while at a restaurant in Miami, the same Cain who spoke of the need to keep China from developing nuclear capability — which China did 47 years ago.

A presidential campaign constitutes the world’s longest and toughest job interview. While it’s fine to vet candidates on likeability, credibility and, yes, experience, it might not hurt to require that they also show evidence of having thought deeply and with an informed mind about the world and America’s place in it. We are, after all, choosing a president — not a golf buddy.

One sometimes wonders if some of us know the difference. That Cain stumbled so badly on a routine question does not speak well of his intellectual firepower.

That he is a leading candidate for the presidency does not speak well of ours.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

weeslicket 2 years, 5 months ago

@ its_just_math* : i have been watching the republican debates. kind of hard for the republicans to blame the media for their own republican performances. @liberty_one: to repeat, i have been watching the republican debates. not sure which debate you're imagining.

  • hey ljworld monitors..... did its_just_math just "out" himself as the former, and banned, right_thinker????
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Liberty_One 2 years, 5 months ago

You know who has well-thought-out positions and can talk about his views for an extended period of time?

Ron Paul.

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Jim Phillips 2 years, 5 months ago

Well, whomever gets the GOP nod will have survived various attacks from various fronts. The good news about that is that all of the ammunition will be spent leaving nothing for the Democrats to successfully attack. That will make the focus of the election Obama and the economy.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 5 months ago

Try running candidates with brains and character.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 5 months ago

I can understand why the hard right is angry right now. Their anti-Obama candidate who was going to split the historically Democratic Black vote has bombed big time and they are venting again.

Nevermind that your philosophy for governing is also bombing as well.

Most Americans have the answers but who is listening to the people anymore?

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bobberboy 2 years, 5 months ago

republicans still don't have anyone that I would consider voting for. They all seem to be a bunch of losers.

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Abdu Omar 2 years, 5 months ago

Cain's flub ( I hate that word) was pretty lame in my opinion. He was experiencing brain flatulance. He had no idea what was happening and it looked as though he had a stroke.

He is less arrogant that Gingrich but still arrogant. I am not for either one, personally, but I would like to see a good leader and a good thinking enter the race. We don't have that now. We need someone who can make a decision that is based upon fact and understands the recoil. Who is that person? Look at the ones running right now and tell me which one is smart or able to make good decisions to lead this country in the right direction. That is who we need.

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its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

Go easy on bozo. He's been told these things about FNC by his most favoritist far-left "media" outlets. I'd be willing to bet a week's pay bozo hasn't spent more than a half hour in the past ten years watching FNC. I, on the other hand give Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher etc etc as much time as I can stomach---which probably equates to a total of about 4-5 hours a month, maybe a little more sometimes, a little less sometimes.

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Gandalf 2 years, 5 months ago

Pavlov's pups in full swing today. Still searching for anyone but Romney. Seems like they are really having difficulty facing the fact that no rightwing idiot can win.

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jaywalker 2 years, 5 months ago

Leave it to Pitts to once again practice selective memory. Shall we review the gaffe list of President Obama on the campaign trail? And I reckon Cain would do a lot better if he had teleprompters in his face and puppets behind the scenes frantically typing salient responses ala Our Neophyte in Chief.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 5 months ago

A recent study showed that regular Fox News watchers are actually less informed than people who don't watch or read any news at all. So it's no surprise that their favored candidates are usually equally un- and misinformed.

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Peter Macfarlane 2 years, 5 months ago

Fresh meat for the conservative attack dogs, i.e. the usual suspects.

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tange 2 years, 5 months ago

It's almost endearing how all the little right-wing cheerleaders rise in anticipation, whenever a new quarterback struts out onto the field... before he stumbles over his own helmet.

/ ohhh, and he wasn't wearing it

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weeslicket 2 years, 5 months ago

so, are you fellows supporting gingrich now and not cain? are we off the perry and bachman bandwagon altogether now? can't we still christen christie? can we find sanity with santorum? is romney still leading? ect. anywhoo, i'm off to join the flavor of the month club.

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its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

I think Americans are finally, to use a coarse term, "scared". They now realize we need a serious conservative thinker, a "right-thinker" if you will, to straighten out the abysmal mess Obama and his merry band of hyper-progressives have gotten us into.

This is why Newt Gingrich has surged in the polls. I know I wouldn't have said this a year ago, that he is a "re-tread", but this is serious business and serious concerned conservatives are thrashing out the candidate chaff and looking for the guy who can fix things. In a debate? Oh dear lord, Newt will eat Obama's lunch. May I suggest it may even reach the level of painful to watch---seeing Obama getting his butt handed to him on a platter in a debate with Gingrich.

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cato_the_elder 2 years, 5 months ago

Cain's real "stumble" is that he stumbled off the Liberal Democrat Plantation. All members of recognized minority groups who do so find out quickly that the wrath of the Plantation Owners is swift, relentless, and unending.

One hopes that someday this will change in America, but for now it's open season on all Dred Scotts who, like Cain, have chosen of their own volition to flee the Plantation and become conservative Republicans.

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 5 months ago

Cain's biggest "stumble" is that he is not friends with Bill Ayers. You know Ayers. He is that Terrorist that blows up public buildings. Cain needs that Terrorist angle that Big Daddy has to succeed in todays transformation state.

Leave it to the Reverse Racist Pitts to make another startling 'Pitts Point' that is hard hitting, truculent work made to order for the changing genetic landscape of the state.

Powerful stuff here.

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its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

"Though the country eventually decided it did, in fact, want Obama, the argument was valuable in that it forced the electorate to ask itself what kind of experience is necessary to a president."

Well, not quite so fast Mr. Pitts. The Obamamania lamestream media and the Liberal Elite Establishment decided they, in fact, wanted Obama. They summarily kicked their former All-Star, Hillary Clinton (well, let's be honest----"The Clintons) to the curb. All the lemmings out there who now have a serious case of 'buyer's remorse' subseqently bought into it. The rest of us? Just a feeling of nausea on an ongoing basis. Please let it be over.

And as far as Cain's gaffes, well 57 states---Hawaii is part of Asia---"corpseman" ( really 'corpsman'---- pronounced 'KOR-min')-----did you ever write about Obama's gaffes? Bidens?

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