Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2012 Contender: Herman Cain

Herman Cain is an interesting candidate. He’s a successful businessman with an impressive record of turning around distressed companies. He’s also an economic and religious conservative, with some creative ideas, and some ideas that will turn off moderates, and one or two ideas that are a little troubling. Is he electable?

The big knock on Cain is that he’s never held elective office. He has an excellent response:

Most of the people in Washington have political experience. How’s that working out for us? Not too well. What I bring to the table is more important than political experience, and it’s leadership experience and problem-solving experience.
But that kind of experience may not help when he has to deal with a political Congress and an entrenched bureaucracy which has more power than anything he’s dealt with in the private sector. Also, should the Presidency be a person’s first political job?

1. His “record”: He has impressive credentials. He has a bachelor’s in Mathematics and a master’s degree in computer science. In 1977, he joined Pillsbury and rose to vice president. Pillsbury later assigned him to run 450 Burger King restaurants in the Philadelphia area. This was BK’s least profitable region, and Cain turned it into BK’s most profitable. Pillsbury then appointed him the CEO of failing Godfather’s Pizza, which he returned to profitability. In 1992, he joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and became its chairman in 1995-1996. Cain ran for Senate in Georgia in 2004 and lost in the primary. Today he hosts a radio show and writes a syndicated column. He has written several business books without the assistance of Bill Ayers.

2. Economics: On economics, Cain is solidly conservative with hints of libertarianism:
Taxes: He wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He wants to reduce the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, reduce the capital gains tax to zero, and end the tax on repatriating profits from overseas. “Liberals say, ‘You just want to reward the rich. No, I want to employ the poor. . . . this is how you can get a job.” He also wants to abolish the IRS and replace the tax code with the FAIR tax.

Spending: He wants to cut the budget across-the-board immediately, and then go through each agency making more cuts, “looking for whole programs to eliminate.” He also says he will veto any bill containing earmarks.

Entitlements: He wants to turn Medicare and Medicaid into block grants to the states and let them establish their own rules. He “totally supports” Paul Ryan’s plan for allowing personal retirement accounts. And he wants to repeal ObamaCare.

Unemployment: He advocates diminishing unemployment benefits over time to encourage people to work, which is what Tommy Thompson did successfully in Wisconsin in the 1990s.

Gold: He believes in the gold standard, which is troubling.
3. Unions/Wisconsin Cain supports Scott Walker and says we need to reverse the trend of giving public sector workers more and more.

4. Global Warming: He does not believe in global warming, saying the science has been manipulated and has become “garbage in, garbage out.”

5. Energy Independence: He favors biofuels as a means of gaining energy independence, so we “stop sending billions of dollars to oil countries that do not like us.” However, he does not believe in using corn: “you don’t use food, you use waste.” He also, apparently does not favor subsidies.

6. Defense/Foreign Policy: Cain’s position on defense is interestingly, but unclear. First, he says we need to start paying attention to our own interests: “The United States has got to stop being Uncle Sucker. We put things on the line, we lose lives, and what do we get in return?” And he wants to be more careful about putting our soldiers in harm’s way.

Thus, on Afghanistan, he says he would ask the military if we can actually win: “I don’t know the answer to that. If the answer is no, then give me an exit strategy. . . . If they say we can win in Afghanistan, I want to hear what the strategy is going to be, and then as president, I’m going to make the decision whether I want to execute that strategy.” So he’s not blindly gung-ho. That’s good.

But then his position on Iran seems strangely bellicose: “We’re not going to talk Iran into not developing nuclear missiles, so we should stop wasting our breath. . . I would park those nuclear submarines over there, with detection capabilities on those ships, and I would do the same thing for Kim Jong Il, that other sick little potentate in North Korea. The only thing they understand is the threat of force and retaliation. I wouldn’t make the first move. I would just make sure our warriors are in place.”

7. Social issues: Cain is a religious conservative, but it’s not clear what this would translate into. Indeed, he seems to be taking the position that these issues would not be his priority. For example, when asked about gay marriage, he said:
I will not sign any legislation that is going to weaken traditional marriage, but I am not going to make getting a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage the centerpiece or the leading issue of my administration. We have a few issues relative to national security, the economy, spending, immigration and education that I think we ought to focus on first. . . leadership is saying very clearly what our priorities are and what we are going to focus our energies on. There are some things that should not distract us from our most pressing priorities.
Here are his views:
Abortion: He believes life begins at conception and opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He also has accused Planned Parenthood of being “formed to systematically lower the black population. . . because they don’t want to deal with the problems of illiteracy and poverty.”

Gays: He opposes gay marriage on the basis of his belief in the Bible, and opposes gay adoption: “How messed up are those kids going to be?”

Separation of Church and State: His statements in this area sound clear, but are strangely ambiguous:
“The First Amendment says the government can’t establish a religion. It doesn’t say that people can’t have religion in government. If you elect people who share the founding spirituality of this country, you will be able to depend on them to make the right decisions.”
What this means in terms of policy, I do not know? At the same time, he says he will allow Muslims “to practice their religion all they want,” but will not let them “force their beliefs, their Sharia law, on the rest of us.” Again, what does this mean in terms of policy?

Immigration: He supported Arizona’s action, and he says the idea of comprehensive immigration reform is a sham designed to do nothing. He says the US must (1) secure the border, (2) enforce the current laws, and (3) streamline the process for becoming a U.S. citizen. What the third part means is unclear.

Affirmative Action: Cain says he opposes quotas, though he’s expressed the idea that in some instances it’s acceptable to consider race.

Guns: He “believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment.”
Cain is one of those guys about whom all conservatives will find something to like. But they will also find something to dislike. And his appeal to non-conservatives is probably very limited. Would he make a good President? Absolutely. Can he win the job? Maybe.

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