washingtonpost.com
The GOP's political lobotomy

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, January 25, 2011;

Herman Cain is thinking of running for president. I learned this from an article by Dan Balz, The Post's chief political correspondent, so I know it's true. Cain is a Republican. He is the former chairman of Godfather's Pizza and calls himself "The Hermanator." If elected, he would be America's second African American president, the second in a row, actually, and the first of any race to be named Herman. You can, as I have done, look it up.

I now know slightly more about Cain than I do of John Thune, Mike Pence and Jon Huntsman. They are also mentioned as possible GOP presidential candidates. They join a field of better-knowns, which includes the inevitable Sarah Palin, the persistent Newt Gingrich, the ideologically flexible Mitt Romney, the religiously besotted Tim Pawlenty, the improbable Haley Barbour, the familiar Mike Huckabee, the diligently competent Mitch Daniels and the ferociously conservative Rick Santorum, who could not even hold on to his Senate seat. As this list makes clear, the Democrats will occupy the White House forever.

Not on this list are Rick Perry, the governor of the once-solvent state of Texas, and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the brother of one president and the son of another. They both say they are not running, which is half a pity (Bush has some interesting ideas on education) and would mean that no one in the GOP field comes from a mega-state - New York, California, Florida or Texas. For the GOP, this is a disaster. Since 1968, every Republican president with the exception of the accidental Gerald Ford has come from California or Texas.

More important, there's not a name on the list that screams president! Some of these people are so obscure their faces could be on milk cartons. Huntsman, now the ambassador to China, has no more name recognition than does Cain, who at least has an Atlanta-based radio show. The same holds for Pence and Daniels, substantive figures but nearly invisible to the naked eye. Among other things, they are unconnected dots - Pence and what? Daniels and what? Finish the sentence. What are their causes?

I hear good things about Daniels. I hear good things about Huntsman. Yet no matter how well they test, they must, like all the others, conform to GOP dogma. This will shrink the biggest of men. They have to swear allegiance to a balanced budget, dangerously low taxes, cutting (trivial) waste, fraud and abuse from the budget, the sacredness of even microscopic life, the innocence of mankind in the cooking of the planet, the inviolability of the 18th-century Constitution, meeting the challenges of globalism with even more localism and a furious rejection of the lessons of Keynes - even when those lessons are successfully applied.

Some of this, I think, is linked to a religious faith that rejects an appropriate skepticism. The Republican credo was enunciated by Pawlenty last year when he declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "God's in charge." For those who did not quite get this drift, he repeated himself. "God is in charge." Why he felt compelled to make a public spectacle of what in years past would have been a personal matter is now obvious. Republicans are more religious than Democrats (50 percent of evangelicals are Republicans while only 34 percent are Democrats, according to a Pew poll), but the more telling figure is this one from a different survey: Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to believe Satan is a real spiritual entity. The devil, as you can see, is in the polling details.

The consequence of such views has to be crushing. It is simply impossible for a centrist to capture the Republican presidential nomination - maybe even to be a Republican. (I challenge any of the above to wholeheartedly endorse evolution or global warming.) The party continues on a course that has already driven out the political moderates and pro-choicers that once comprised its intellectual and financial core and, in the staffing of administrations, still somewhat does - Colin Powell, for instance. To call this a brain drain understates the calamity. It's a political lobotomy.

I upbraid myself for not knowing of "The Hermanator" and his possible presidential candidacy. But when I look over the GOP field, I see the wisdom in his candidacy. He must think, and not entirely without reason, that he's as good as any of the others. The pity is, he is.

cohenr@washpost.com

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