When Herman Cain sang at the National Press Club the other day, I thought it was absurd. There he goes again, the clown. Looking at the performance in greater context, I found it easier to smile at, and not in a hostile way. Still, if you think about it, it says something bad about America that here we are, facing the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and looking at a future of crippling indebtedness unless our leaders take drastic action … and the top candidate for the Republican nomination a year from election day is a charming businessman with no political experience, who knows nothing about the world (and makes jokes about his own ignorance), and who is given over to camping it up on the campaign trail. If times were great, there would be serious reason to doubt whether America could afford a man like Herman Cain in the Oval Office. But times are terrible, and could easily get far worse. It’s really quite an indictment on the unseriousness of our country, or at least the conservative electorate, that Cain is at the top of the polls now. The media play their own role in perpetuating this circus. Conservative James Poulos writes in the Daily Caller:
With every farce, there’s another person, constituency, or party at fault — for running plays from political playbooks that ought to be hurled in a fire pit. The left disgraces itself in a festival of Uncle-Tomming. The right resorts to the same defensive boosterism for which it mocks its enemies so well. The media salivates over whatever is of the least substance — as, every week, a freshly manufactured fetish object takes pride of place. Cain runs an operation so unready for prime time that Sarah Palin can’t take it seriously, preferring — how low the bar — Newt Gingrich.
Sadly, the Cain Train is now the locomotive of a Republican race for the White House that’s run off the rails. The grand theme is a total lack of seriousness. Not seriousness in the self-serious sense that, say, Jon Huntsman would use it. Seriousness in the sense that everyone, from Cain to his fans and critics to their proxies in the chattering class, seems positively thrilled to fight to the death over the trivialities of political theater — presumably because a loss on that ground means exclusion from the battle over what is actually to be done in America.
Look, I think Herman Cain is probably a really nice guy. It’s very hard to dislike him. But president of the United States? And look, I know too that the “best and the brightest” often screw up horrible. It was Kennedy and McNamara who got us into Vietnam. George W. Bush might not have been the second coming of Metternich, but his national security team was taken straight from the GOP foreign policy elite — and they gave us Iraq. Expertise does not guarantee wisdom. But that doesn’t mean the amateurism puts us on the side of the angels, either. You wouldn’t trust an amateur to spay your cat or to give you sound investment advice for your 401(K) — yet there are millions of Republians who think an avuncular amateur like Herman Cain would do a great job as president of the United States, or at least a better job than Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or anybody else on offer who has actually worked in politics. I’m not thrilled with these choices either, but come on, what is wrong with us?
UPDATE: I agree with Joe Carter, my fellow religious conservative, that the GOP-sponsored House measure to “reaffirm” the use of “In God We Trust” as our national motto is a stupid chunk of boob bait to Religious Right voters. Well, he didn’t call it “boob bait.” I did. I am on the Religious Right, and I mean it. Flag factory stuff, the elevation of the emotional and the trivial over the serious at a time calling for intense seriousness. Again: What is wrong with us?
UPDATE.2: In the combox thread below, Zathras points to this Josh Barro blog item from National Review Online today, arguing that while the Washington establishment is often wrong, the alternative can also be worse.
And yes, before you bring it up, Sarah Palin. I was an early and strong Palin enthusiast, but dropped her when it became clear, about a month into her run on the VP ticket, that she was not remotely a serious person whose judgment could be relied upon at that level of government. But as we know, people’s emotional attachment to her, along with the power of identity politics, were strong.