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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

cato_the_elder 2 years, 11 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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weeslicket 2 years, 11 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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weeslicket 2 years, 11 months ago

my name is weeslicket. please refer to me by my name.

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Peter Macfarlane 2 years, 11 months ago

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

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 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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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes. A brilliant "study." Forget the logical conclusion that it's unfathomable for people who don't watch or read the news to score 18 points higher than Fox watchers regarding the Egyptian uprising. What are non-news folks doing? Divining world strife?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

"What are non-news folks doing? "

They're not being lied to.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

So Fox is broadcasting that Egypt hasn't overthrown their dictator but Syria has? And you delight in accusing others of willful ignorance?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

Hey, if you like Fox News, watch it all you like. (but that explains a lot about you."

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

I never watch it. But your knee-jerk labeling says everything we need to know about you.
And thanks for folding like the cheap suit you are once again. No logical and rational rebuttal? Ever? You're a wonder.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

I reported the results of a study. Nothing more. Nothing less. I wasn't trying to provide a peer-reviewed analysis of it.

If you want to do one, knock yourself out. And if you want to "pump yourself up" because I won't do one for you, go ahead and make a blowfish of yourself.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 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, 11 months ago

"Shall we review the gaffe list of President Obama on the campaign trail?"

Sure-- have at it.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

A small sampling on a day of excess:

Obama claimed that Kansas tornadoes killed a whopping 10,000 people: “In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed.” The actual death toll: 12. Must have gone to the bozo school of exaggeration.

“Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go.”

Explaining why he was trailing Hillary Clinton in Kentucky: “Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas. So it’s not surprising that she would have an advantage in some of those states in the middle.” On what map is Arkansas closer to Kentucky than Illinois?

Explaining how his parents got together because of the civil rights movement: “There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born.” Obama was born in 1961. The Selma march took place in 1965.

Obama pleaded ignorance of the decades-old, multi-billion-dollar massive Hanford nuclear waste clean-up: “Here’s something that you will rarely hear from a politician, and that is that I’m not familiar with the Hanford, uuuuhh, site, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on there. (Applause.) Now, having said that, I promise you I’ll learn about it by the time I leave here on the ride back to the airport.” I assume on that ride a staffer reminded him that he’d voted on at least one defense authorization bill that addressed the “costs, schedules, and technical issues” dealing with the nation’s most contaminated nuclear waste site.

Obama told a Portland crowd that Iran doesn’t “pose a serious threat to us”–cluelessly arguing that “tiny countries” with small defense budgets can’t do us harm– and then promptly flip-flopped the next day, claiming, “I’ve made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave.”

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

OK, that was a nice little list.

But what does it have to do with Pitts's column? Do the few gaffes listed above now mean the Cain is qualified to be president, in humble (cough, gasp, wheeze) opinion?

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

"Shall we review the gaffe list of President Obama on the campaign trail?"

"Sure-- have at it."

You're....'challenged.' I understand.

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cato_the_elder 2 years, 11 months ago

Not so. Many of us support Romney-Rubio, assuming Romney can persuade Rubio to join him on the ticket.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

Well, to fit in, whatever Rubio's positions are, he needs to change them, and then change them back, a few dozen times.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

How wholly unoriginal. Your posts carry the same import and interest of a skipping record.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

Mine was meant for the pavlov pupsqueak.

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jaywalker 2 years, 11 months ago

Holiday Haiku:

Sands thru the hourglass, Day after week after month, The wizard adds not..

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Abdu Omar 2 years, 11 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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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 11 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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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 11 months ago

Try running candidates with brains and character.

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Jim Phillips 2 years, 11 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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weeslicket 2 years, 11 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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