Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Saw An Angel Falling From Heaven...

...or at least that's what the precipitous decline of GOP candidate Herman Cain's fortunes have resembled over the past month.  Cain has gone from the anti-Romney, Tea-Party darling of the GOP to an absolute train wreck in a short time.  Riding a wave of popularity, largely due to his catchy 9-9-9 slogan, Cain crested at around the same percentage (25%) in many national polls that GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney has captured almost since beginning his presidential campaign 4 1/2 years ago.  Cain even held the lead in several early voting state polls like Iowa and South Carolina.  The Cain campaign has been undone primarily by three events.

1)  Allegations of sexual harassment against Cain while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association.  Even though the campaign was given a 10 day advance notice by the media investigating the story it failed to respond in a coherent manner when the story broke, instead preferring to compare Cain to Clarence Thomas and claim it was a left-wing 'high tech lynching.'  Eventually, the campaign had to admit there was some substance to the allegations of at least two of the women who had received cash settlements from the NRA in the late 1990's.  That in itself was not enough to bring down the campaign, however.

2)  Libya...uh, yeah, Libya.  At a meeting with a journalist in Wisconsin (what was he doing in Wisconsin when they don't vote until March?) Cain was asked whether he supported President Obama's policy on Libya...and he looked dumbfounded and couldn't even remember what that policy was.  It was sort of similar to Sarah Palin and the Bush Doctrine moment from her 2008 interview with Charlie Gibson.  At least Cain didn't say he could see Canada from Wisconsin!

3)  The latest allegation is that Cain had a long running affair with Ginger White.  She claims it lasted 13 years while he says they were 'just friends.'  It appears they were friends with benefits, if she turns out to be credible.  Ms. White said she had Cain's personal cell phone number and gave it to a reporter who texted him from her phone and Cain called right away.  Oops.

What does any of this mean?  Nothing really.  Herman Cain was never really running for president and never stood a serious chance of winning.  Everybody with the slightest inkling of political knowledge understood that his campaign was about selling books and enriching himself further.  To that end, it has worked marvelously.  But if the most recent allegations are true, it may cost him his marriage of 43 years.  That's a huge price to pay for selling a few meaningless books.

Since at least the early 90's America's elite political class has focused on playing the 'politics of personal destruction' as a way to avoid substantive debates on substantive issues.  The media fuels the fire by seeking sensationalist stories devoid of substance and intelligence.  Both approaches serve to disengage the mass public and ensure we pay as little attention to politics as possible.  Both lead Americans to distrust their government and, in some cases, dislike it.  Case in point...recent polls have Congress' approval rating at a mere 9% with the general public.  Many Americans believe our governmental institutions have failed.  Apart from a commitment to reverse recent trends, it is only a matter of time before they become irrelevant and our democracy is endangered.  People who don't trust their government are prone to abolish it.  Will the next revolution be called the American Spring?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Update

It's been a while since I've posted, largely due to a busy travel schedule and end of the semester preparations.  Most of November was spent preparing for a conference presentation in Philadelphia, wrapping up some assessment work at MSU, and getting my classes to the finish line, which is now in sight.  Classes end on December 2nd and finals end on December 9th.  My students have no finals, just papers.  So I'll be busy reading those once they come in before taking a much needed break until the 10th of January.

So what has transpired over the past month in the world of American politics?  Several important events to be sure...and I'm sure I'll miss some along the way.

1)  The remarkable rise of Herman Cain as the GOP's anti-Romney seems to have come full circle as his poll numbers have shrunk after a series of missteps, including his campaign's unorthodox handling of the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Cain.  The allegations, some apparently well-documented, others blowing in the breeze, didn't hurt Mr. Cain as much as his unclear and occasionally contradictory refutations of them did.  Following the allegations Mr. Cain's weakness on foreign policy and national security issues was exposed in consecutive Republican debates, fumbled answers to direct questions at a sit down interview with a Wisconsin reporter, seeming not to understand that Cubans speak Spanish, and so on.  Some will argue that this is evidence of a conspiratorial left-wing media out to destroy a viable GOP candidate.  I think, rather, it is evidence of a candidate not yet ready for primetime.

2)  Dovetailing with the fall of Cain from grace has been the meteoric rise of Newt Gingrich.  Newt has gone from the high single digits in most pre-November polls to the lead in several early primary states as the GOP desperately seeks anybody but Romney to be their standard bearer, even if this means nominating a man who has been divorced three times, suffers from foot in mouth disease, and thinks it might be a good idea for grade school children to work evenings as janitors cleaning up their schools.  Newt is nothing if not an idea man...in many ways the right-wing version of a policy wonk like Bill Clinton was for centrist Democrats.  There is no doubt about Gingrich's talents and abilities but the practical implications of his policy preferences are as yet unknown.  Can he hold on until Iowa and snag a few early victories?  Probably because he is really the only other candidate in the race qualified to be president apart from the two Mormons, Romney and Huntsman.

3)  The Super Committee failed spectacularly at cutting $1.2 trillion from future deficits, largely because the GOP was adamant about not raising taxes on the 1% to offset some of the cuts in benefits and services they proposed on the 99%.

4)  The Occupy Wall Street movement gained some traction and got plenty of good press over the past few weeks along with some not so good news as they were evicted from their camps in many cities.  I had the chance to visit one of these camps in Philadelphia last week and while I share many of their concerns I have my own qualms about their methods.  On the one hand, ensuring that a sector of society that is usually invisible is noticed is a good thing.  On the other, failing to police their encampments and ensure sanitary conditions is not.  While in Philly, OWS marched down Market Street and seemed to be well received by those gathering on the sidewalks as they passed by.  The demonstrations there were peaceful and well ordered as the police department cleared pathways for the demonstrators and ensured public safety.  Kudos to the Philly PD for a great job.

I'm sure there is plenty I missed over the past few weeks as well.  If there's anything you'd like to see posted here just drop me an email or make a comment.  Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.