Herman Cain’s “truth problem”

posted at 6:15 pm on October 23, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

gaffe also gaff n. an occurrence of someone telling the truth by accident.

One of the big topics of discussion around here over the weekend was whether or not Herman Cain has a “truth problem.” Generally, when we talk about politicians having such an issue, it’s because we catch them lying. (“BREAKING: Our top story tonight, a politician is caught telling a lie! That story coming up right after our investigative report revealing that many children like candy.”) Not so with the former Godfathers Pizza CEO. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of an instance thus far where I could even say he’s been “bending the truth” apart from expressing opinions you may disagree with.

No, the discussion I was dragged into centered on a different sort of problem. It seems to me that there is a growing body of evidence which indicates that Herman Cain has a propensity to take pretty much any question from any reporter and just shoot from the hip with a truthful answer. It is only after the fallout from his answers begins that he seems to notice the potential damage he’s doing to his campaign and he embarks on a series of “clarifications” to make the answer more palatable to primary voters. This, in turn, provides red meat for his opponents to begin swinging at him and rather weak tea talking points for his supporters to try to defend his statements.

One of the most recent – and certainly most toxic – examples has been his series of puzzling answers on the abortion question. And let’s be honest here… who could possibly consider running for the Republican presidential nomination and not know that one was coming? I’ve heard the defenses being put forward, but frankly none of them make as much sense as the conclusion that Cain simply wasn’t ready for the question. Let’s go back once again and look at the precise answer he originally gave to Piers Morgan. (Emphasis mine for this particular question.)

No, it comes down to is, it’s not the government’s role — or anybody else’s role — to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is, it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president. Not some politician. Not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t get much more clear than that. It’s a choice. It’s not the government’s business. But the excrement hit the fan, so to speak, and he wound up putting the campaign car in reverse and flooring the gas. First he tried to claim he didn’t fully understand the question, implying that he was only saying that he wouldn’t try to directly prevent abortions by executive fiat as president. (A silly argument, requiring us to believe the thought it was possible to do so or that the reporter and the voting public might have thought so.) Then he said that it should be illegal, but some families might choose to break the law anyway. (How it becomes illegal without the government being involved is something of a puzzler.) And now he’s saying that he would push for a constitutional amendment to make it illegal and would use the POTUS bully pulpit to push legislation to ban it. Sure sounds like the government being involved to me.

Related: Cain even went so far this weekend as to say, regarding such an amendment to the constitution, “… if it comes to my desk, I’ll sign it.” (Well. OK, then.)

This isn’t the only example, of course. He did the same thing on the electric fence, which was absolutely just a joke and not a policy position. Unless, a few hours later, you’d like it to be a policy position, in which case it might be. Because, you know… he doesn’t want to offend anyone.

That’s what led me to the conclusion yesterday that Herman Cain doesn’t have a problem with not knowing the issues or with lying. What he does have is an unfortunate propensity to just blurt out the truth without seeming to realize what it will do to his political fortunes. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that he can’t just stick by his original assertion and defend it boldly. He backpedals and tries to please everyone. If Cain honestly thinks that abortion is wrong but that it’s not the federal government’s place to get involved, he should make that case and stick by it.

This led one of my friends – a newly minted Cain supporter – to drop me a line after she’d had time to consider my argument. It included the following:

Maybe you don’t realize in your analytical little brain how offensive it sounds when you say that. Here’s what I hear you saying: Herman Cain shouldn’t be elected because he wasn’t smart enough to figure out what to lie about ahead of time.

Kind of harsh, but I had to admit that maybe that’s what I was saying. Cain wants to be president, but before you can hold that office you have to be a politician first. (And a darn good one at that.) Perhaps Cain would excel at the job as leader of the free world. But he’s not shining at the necessary task of being a good enough politician to get there. Assuming that many of these initial bits of truth telling are how he really feels about these issues, either Herman Cain has to figure out how to win the nomination while espousing positions which are unpopular with the base, or … (deep breath) .. he should have figured out how to lie about it more convincingly in the first place.

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