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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:30 PM ET, 11/14/2011

‘Sissy pizza’ and the rhetorical excesses of Herman Cain


As the “sissy pizza” interview with GQ attests, Herman Cain is a man without a filter. That’s great when you’re just a regular joe or the head of a company who wants to fire up his employees. But when you’re running to lead the free world? A filter is a must.

There are so many examples of Cain’s excesses that the flagging Republican front-runner’s utterances fall into three distinct buckets. “Reckless,” “illogical” and “yes/no.”

RECKLESS

Cain has a habit of saying the ill-considered or reckless thought. Some might find it charming. But Cain’s sarcastic “charm” has a hard edge that makes it even more difficult to envision him sitting in the Oval Office. What a president says can move markets and spark international conflict. Thus far, on this basis alone, Cain is temperamentally unsuited to be president of the United States.

The most infamous Cain statement in this category is the one on an electrified border fence.“We’re going to have a real fence. 20 feet high with barbed wire. Electrified,” he told supporters. “With a sign on the other side that says, ‘It can kill you!’ ” Anticipating trouble, Cain went on to say, “Then I get criticized, ‘Mr. Cain, that’s insensitive.’ What do you mean insensitive? What’s insensitive is when they come to the United States across our border and kill our citizens and kill our Border Patrol people. That’s insensitive.”

Another good example is what Cain said in an interview Friday with conservative radio host Michael Savage. If he doesn’t become president, Cain said he’d like to be secretary of defense “to help the generals and commanders on the ground to get what they need, to do what they do best, and that is kick the you-know-what out of everyone in the world.” Do you really need me to list all of the questions raised by that “kick the you-know-what out of everyone in the world” comment?

Then there is Cain’s willingness to engage in petty put-downs of opponents. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former speaker of the House, was derided as “Princess Nancy” at last week’s debate on the economy. Sharon Bialek was branded a “troubled woman” being used by “the Democrat machine” after she publicly aired her sexual-harassment allegations against him.

And in that GQ interview, Cain had interesting things to say about his opponents. Asked what flavor ice cream is Rick Perry, Cain said, “Rocky road.” Michele Bachmann? “Tutti-frutti.” Mitt Romney? “[J]ust plain vanilla.” Can you imagine the firestorm that would ensue had Romney been asked that question and he said Cain’s flavor was “just plain chocolate”? I can’t, because Romney would never, ever put himself in the position of making such a dunderheaded remark.

ILLOGICAL
Cain has perfected the ability to make the illogical sound down-right reasonable — for a nanosecond, that is. This is most irksome and worrisome when he is sputtering on about foreign affairs. At the foreign- policy debate in South Carolina on Saturday, Cain was asked about torture.

MAJOR GARRETT: And I’d like to address this question to Mr. Cain.  Stephen writes, “I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.  I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases.  What is your stance on torture?”
HERMAN CAIN: I believe that following the procedures that have been established by our military, I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.  That is the critical consideration.

Cain’s response also falls into the “yes/no” category, which I’ll get to in a sec. You either “agree with torture” or you don’t. This is a moral question. Both President Obama and his 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), were unambiguously opposed to torture. They would not leave it to the judgment of military leaders to determine what is torture. As commander in chief, it would be Cain’s role to lead on this issue, not follow. But deferring to military commanders is Cain’s default response anyway.

You probably missed Cain’s interview with Bill O’Reilly earlier this month when the Fox News anchor schooled the former Godfather’s Pizza chief on the deficiencies of his stance on Iran. It came toward the end of the conversation. I include the transcript below because no amount of clever writing can do it justice.

O’REILLY: All right. So what are you going to do to Iran if they cause trouble in Iraq, which it looks like they will, and continue on the road to the nuclear weapon? Do you have a specific thing that you’re going to do to them that President Obama is not doing?
CAIN: Let me tell you what I wouldn’t be doing in Iraq. And that is, I wouldn’t be announcing and telling our enemy that we are going to pull out of Iraq.
O’REILLY: Well the Iraqi government did that. So we didn’t have control over that.
CAIN: Well, well, I know. But what I’m saying is when I become president, I will have to evaluate the situation at the time in Iraq, Afghanistan and every one of these countries because I will listen to the commanders on the ground. Now let me respond to these questions about Iran.
O’REILLY: OK, all right, let’s — yes, we’re running out of time here. What would you do that hasn’t been done?
CAIN: What I would do that hasn’t been done, relative to Iran, two things. No. 1, develop and we are developing it and I’m going to talk about this within the next couple of weeks, an energy-independence strategy with a serious independent strategy so we can become energy-independent…
O’REILLY: That’s not going to — that’s not going to go — energy independence is not going to — it’s not going to influence Iran one way or the other.
CAIN: Bill, Bill, work with me here.
O’REILLY: It’s going to help us, but it’s not going to hurt them.
CAIN: Now work with me here, Bill. No, that’s not true.
O’REILLY: Well, they’ll sell most of this stuff to China. So China will pick up all the slack.
CAIN: Bill, work with me here. Just the fact that we have an energy-independence plan, it’s going to impact the world market for the price of oil about a third. What’s that going to do is going to put pressure on Iran because they depend upon high oil prices in order to be able to fund that government. Now, the second thing that I would do is I would maximize the use of our ballistic-missile-defense capability. I would double the number of ballistic-missile-defense-capable ships that are Aegis warships and strategically place them in the world. Iran understands only two things: economic pressure and our military might. And we have an opportunity to increase it.
O’REILLY: All right so you're going to put — you’re going to put the warships in the Persian Gulf because they’ll attack them. You know they’re going to try to do something if you do that, if you put them there.
CAIN: That would be perfectly all right because I believe that we have a superior capability.
O’REILLY: Oh, we would knock them but then you are in a shooting war with Iran. Do you really want that?
CAIN: Well — well, I don’t want that, Bill. But if they fire first, we are going to defend ourselves and defend our enemies and they are no match for our warships.
O’REILLY: But isn’t that a provocation if you would put warships off their coast?
CAIN: No. They have already announced that they are going to put their ships off our coast in international waters. That’s not a provocation.
O’REILLY: Well all right, Mr. Cain.
CAIN: We are trying to protect ourselves.

Say what?!

And don’t forget Cain’s strategy for dealing with a potential military threat from China. “My China strategy is quite simply outgrow China,” he said before making it clear that he didn’t know China has had nuclear weapons since 1964.

“YES/NO”

This is my favorite of Cain’s rhetorical buckets. While Romney catches hell for being on all sides of every issue, Cain skates on by.

As already mentioned, Cain’s tortured comments on torture also belong here. “I do not agree with torture, period,” he said definitively at the foreign-policy debate. But when asked about waterboarding, which is torture, he said, “Yes, I would return to that policy.  I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”

Cain hilariously invoked this when asked if he’d take a lie detector test to bolster his denials of the graphic sexual harassment allegations leveled by Bialek. “I absolutely would,” he said. “But I’m not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do it.”

The “yes/no” that got him into big trouble was his all-over-the-place stance on abortion. “I am pro-life from conception, no abortions, no exceptions,” Cain said. But then in cases of rape and incest, he said, that “ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make, not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family.”

There are so many other examples. I didn’t even get into the reckless illogic of the “yes/no” that is Cain’s “9-9-9/9-0-9” plan. But there really isn’t any need to. Judging by the latest batch of polls showing Newt Gingrich’s surge in support, one thing is crystal-clear. Despite Cain’s best efforts at filter-free rhetorical excesses, meant to keep them in his corner, likely Republican primary voters no longer think “Häagen-Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time.” As was bound to happen.

By  |  05:30 PM ET, 11/14/2011

 
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