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Once again, Cain is proving he's far from able

Jonathan P Hicks | 11/10/2011, 11:17 a.m.
It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention

If nothing else, Herman Cain is proving two things: He knows how to dominate the news and he is utterly unfit to be president.

After surging to the top of the Republican polls with his folksy, yet vacuous campaign style, Cain attracted nearly nonstop attention from the media, primarily as a result of a creepy campaign commercial that seemed to promote smoking as much as the candidate. (It also included footage of Cain with a slow-evolving smile, a scene that evoked memories somewhere between the Cheshire Cat and "Friday the 13th.")

Then came the disclosure by Politico that two women had accused Cain of sexual harassment some years ago. The women, the online news operation said, received settlements from the National Restaurant Association, where Cain served as president from 1996 to 1999. That news has created a full-blown catastrophe for Cain, the Georgia businessman who once ran the Godfather's Pizza chain, as the crisis has produced some disconcerting revelations-not all of them about the candidate.

First, there is Cain himself. The candidate responded to the revelations by offering a steady shift in his recollections of the events. Despite the fact that Cain's campaign was asked about the harassment charges nearly a week before they were reported by the media, the candidate seemed to have no handle whatsoever on how to respond. In one minute, he said he had no knowledge of a settlement with any woman. In the next, he discussed his memory of the amount of the settlement.

In Cain's defense, the presence of a settlement between the accuser and the restaurant association doesn't mean he was guilty of any misconduct, but his ham-fisted response to the questions-punctuated by offering his baritone rendition of "Amazing Grace" during public appearances-suggests that this candidate is nowhere near ready for primetime.

The most disgusting aspect of this event has been Cain's suggestion that he is somehow the victim of racist, liberal white leaders who fear his climb in the polls because they see him as a strong, Black conservative man. This from the man who earlier this year said, "I don't believe that racism in this country holds anybody back." After earlier insisting that race no longer serves as a barrier to Black aspirations, Cain is now all too ready to play the racial victim-in full Clarence Thomas mode-although he acknowledged that "we don't have any evidence to support that."

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter seemed to agree when she told Sean Hannity on Fox News that "our Blacks are so much better than their Blacks" because "you have fought against probably your family, probably your neighbors...that's why we have very impressive Blacks."

Apart from Cain, this latest incident once again reveals how eager the media are to pounce upon any potential scandal that is sexually titillating. Any accusation of sexual harassment is certainly serious business, but where was the critical media attention to Cain's ill-advised tax plan, the so-called "9-9-9" initiative that, despite what the candidate insists, would raise taxes for more than 80 percent of Americans?

If anyone can take pleasure in the nonstop media attention on Cain, it is not liberals but rather his Republican rivals in the presidential race, whose woes are receiving less attention. The Cain domination has completely obscured the coverage of Gov. Rick Perry's recent appearance in New Hampshire, where the Texas governor's over-the-top delivery made him seem, well, bizarre.

It has also taken the focus off Mitt Romney's latest flip-flop on global warming-he's now unsure if humans have contributed to it. Cain's troubles have even siphoned off media attention from the pathetic candidacy of Michelle Bachmann, the onetime darling of the Tea Party. A leading Tea Party leader recently publicly called for Bachmann to withdraw from the race.

The sexual harassment issue has even taken the focus off what could turn out to be illegal contributions to the Cain campaign from a charity run by two of his top aides.

Altogether, the Cain circus demonstrates how dreadful a candidate he really is and, at the same time, the dismal nature of the candidacies of his fellow Republican candidates, to say nothing about the media's priorities in political coverage.