It was too good to last. While the personal attacks against Herman Cain were based on unsubstantiated allegations, I knew his real problem would eventually come up: He does a decent ten-second sound-bite, but I think his depth of understanding on issues has always been lacking. There have been signs all along, such as his lack of knowledge on the issue of a “right of return” claimed by Palestineans, his dearth of knowledge on some of the entitlements-related issues as demonstrated by the Cain-Gingrich debate, and now he’s really blown it with some very odd responses to questions about Libya in a sit-down interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I do like Herman Cain, and I think he’s a genuine and sincere American who believes in a message of optimism, but the fact is that he doesn’t know the issues. Cain’s reliance on his life’s experience in business has come down to this: He’s inspiring and motivating, but it does not qualify him to be the President.
I say this with some sadness, because I firmly believe we need a candidate with his optimistic view of America’s potential, but I also know that in the real world we face, that alone will not salvage our position. If he gets this confused over our foreign policy on Libya, it’s going to be a problem. He seems to have gotten confused about the question, his rehearsed answer, or some combination of the two. To his credit, he gets back on track but he seemed to be stalling a bit in trying to do so, suggesting he was trying to remember what his position has been rather than responding directly to the question. Again, I’m not bashing Herman Cain, but giving you my best assessment of his knowledge. It may be that he would be able to stumble in this fashion through foreign policy crises that may arise, but that’s not really the scenario in which you want your President learning the foreign policy ropes.
I also realize that Cain says he likes to have full information before making a decision, and that’s laudable, but the truth is that a President must frequently make decisions despite sometimes sizable gaps in the available information. Some of those situations will be time-critical, and a President will be forced to try to fill in the blanks with best guesses from advisers, but also from his own accumulated knowledge and experience. Herman Cain has a great deal of wisdom and experience in some matters, and virtually none in others. Foreign policy is one of these, and the truth of the Presidency is that foreign policy is arguably the most important concern of every President, whether the occupant of the Oval Office recognizes this fact or not. If defending the country is the primary purpose of the federal government, then foreign policy must be among our top priorities for our nominee.
This lack of detailed knowledge becomes readily apparent when placed alongside Newt Gingrich, another technocrat with long experience as a policy wonk, but it’s more than that. I have had concerns about Cain from the moment he first ran into the “right to return” flap. Even at that, I’d still take a Herman Cain over a Mitt Romney, but the truth is that there are better options than either, in my view. This particular instance with Cain comes at a bad time, because the latest round of polling seems to indicate his personal favorability has slipped in light of an admittedly dubious batch of allegations about his personal conduct. A bit reminiscent of Perry’s mental slippage of last week, this moment may provide the final downward impetus to seal Cain’s fate. Honestly, it’s too bad because he may very well be innocent of all the wretched allegations leveled at him, but in politics, it is so difficult to over come perceptions that when combined with this episode, may turn out to have been an insurmountable obstacle to his campaign. Then again, people have counted Cain out before, and he’s survived. Whether he can win the nomination with his clear lack of knowledge may be another matter.
You can watch the video clip from the interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel below: