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Herman Cain Plays Hide and Seek with Voters

October 20, 2011

Judging by the headlines, Herman Cain's tenure as the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination may be a brief one. After his supposed "jokes" about lethal electrified borders fences, Politico and the New York Times wondered if candidate Cain is even "serious" about the White House. Following his jaw-dropping pro-choice, anti-abortion declaration, the Greg Sargent of Washington Post asked, "Are Herman Cain's 15 minutes of fame over?"
If they aren't, they should be. Because what Herman Cain doesn't know (for example, about foreign leaders, his party's neoconservative movement or critical issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is a lot. But perhaps even more disturbing - and deceptive - are Cain's claims that he knows what he doesn't. And as he showed with a previously secret update to his trademark 9-9-9 plan and so much else, Herman Cain is playing a game of hide and seek with voters.
The latest example comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Cain is already reworking his 9-9-9 plan after facing a tsunami of criticism about its dramatic shift of the tax burden to lower income Americans. One day after his pummeling in the CNN debate, Cain told Nevada Republicans he was carving a sales tax exemption for the poor:

"We're not going to throw the people at the poverty level under the bus," Cain told an audience at the Western Republican Leadership Conference. "No, we're not going to do that. But we've already made provisions for that. But I just hadn't told the public and my opponents about it yet. So we're going to take care of those who are less economically advantaged."

Of course, Cain omitted any details of what that exemption might be or how it might work. But, he suggested, it was in his plan all along. "He suggested his decision to keep the exemption secret until today," the Times noted, "was a calculated strategic move."

"I wanted to wait until I got attacked on that for a while," said Cain, whose plan was attacked Tuesday by rivals at a Las Vegas debate. "We already have a plan for that. But I wanted to see if they would come at that. They thought that it was going to be dead in the water. No."

The Super Secret Sales Tax Exemption is just the latest twist on Herman Cain's efforts to stonewall the press and the public alike hoping to learn more about his proposals, policies and even basic knowledge. Last week, Cain brushed off a question about TARP money going to banks in China and Libya because, he said, "That's too long of a question to answer!" Hoping to avoid a replay of candidate George W. Bush's hilariously pathetic inability to name foreign leaders, Cain objected:

"When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm going to say, you know, I don't know. Do you know?"

On the question of American policy in Afghanistan, in May Cain pleaded the fifth because, he explained:

"I'm not privy to a lot of confidential information. At this point, I don't know all the facts."

Instead, Cain announced, he would rely on "the experts and their advice and their input." And if his experts' input, Cain briefly suggested, was to release every prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for one U.S. soldier held by Al Qaeda

"I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer but what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information. I got all of the input, considered all of the options. And then, the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I can make that call if I had to."

All of which raises the question as to who Herman Cain's foreign and domestic policy might be. On that point, too, Herman Cain knows, but he's just not going to tell you.
As Politico noted, "Cain said he subscribes to the foreign policy wisdom of Henry Kissinger and John Bolton -- never mind, again, that these two men have diametrically opposed views of the world." But it's on the architects of his economic policy and the 9-9-9 plan in particular where Herman Cain's game of hide and seek goes from the ridiculous to the sublime. As the Washington Examiner recounted just one example from last week's GOP debate in New Hampshire:

In the debate, the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty asked Cain, "Who do you turn to for political advice and for economic advice?" Cain answered that his advisers "come from the American people." Saying "I will have some experts," Cain mentioned just one name: Rich Lowrie, head of an Ohio-based investment firm, who helped create the 9-9-9 proposal. Then Cain added: "I also have a number of other well-recognized economists that helped me to develop this 9-9-9 plan...It was well-studied and well-developed."
When Tumulty asked, "So who are some of these economists?" Cain demurred, naming only Lowrie...
Later in the debate, Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman asked Cain, who served on the board of the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, who he felt had been a successful Fed chairman. After naming former Fed chief Alan Greenspan, Cain said he has some candidates in mind for the job should he become president. "I have already identified two candidates -- which I cannot give their names -- to replace Mr. Bernanke, in anticipation of having that responsibility," Cain said.

For his part, Wells Fargo wealth manager and non-economist Rich Lowrie is also remaining tight-lipped about Cain's advisers:

"I don't know what the policy is for releasing their names," he said. "There are some who said, 'We like you guys; we'll help you as much as we can, but don't use my name.' ... There are people who want to stay neutral, and if they said, 'Don't use my name,' we're going to respect that. I don't think that's unusual."

Cain's campaign manager Mark Block continued the shell game, insisting that Lowrie is the go-to guy for recruiting economic advisers. As he Block told Politico:

"I'm not trying to dance around the question. I quite frankly don't know who they are."

And so it goes.
It is increasingly clear that Herman Cain doesn't know what he doesn't know. But figuring out which is which, Cain suggests, is for voters to find out. As he protested when asked about his mystery advisers and would-be nominees to the Federal Reserve:

"If people want to beat me up because I'm not spilling my guts about who it is that's helping me put these ideas together -- beat me up."

Now that he's a frontrunner, the American people seem increasingly willing to do just that.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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