By the end of the day yesterday, the Twitter consensus — among the feeds I follow, at least — seemed to be that Herman Cain’s painful pauses and cautious, unconfident answers to questions about Libya and collective bargaining from the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel were indefensible. Somehow, though, Rush Limbaugh has found a defense — and it comes across as a sensible one.

On his radio program today, Limbaugh suggested the video of a bumbling, uncertain Cain was “just the latest hit piece.”

“On Libya, he ended up — when you listen to the whole interview, the whole question and answer — he ended up getting Libya right,” the radio host proclaimed. “His biggest mistake was admitting that he was having a hard time focusing. He shouldn’t have said that in front of the enemy — the enemy being the editorial board.”

Limbaugh also reminded his listeners that some federal unionized employees do have collective bargaining rights. Air traffic controllers collectively bargain over their wages, for example, and other federal unionized employees collectively bargain over working conditions.

“Substantively, Cain was right,” Limbaugh said. “Substantively, Cain got it right on collective bargaining for federal unionized workers — and the editors got it wrong. And even the Journal-Sentinel article that accompanies the video eventually admitted that Cain got it right in his answer and they got it wrong, but no matter. They are attempting to portray via the video here a slow, ignorant, uninformed, unsure-of-himself candidate who really is just outclassed and is totally out of his league. And the video, under that impression, under those auspices, has gone viral.”

Truthfully, when I first saw the video, I wasn’t nearly so appalled as I was when I watched Herman Cain’s dizzying circumlocutions on his position on abortion. But that’s just it — that’s what Limbaugh ignores in this instance. Just as Rick Perry’s “oops” moment was eminently more painful because it followed a string of lousy debates, so Cain’s confusion about Libya and collective bargaining appeared ever more foolish because they fit a pattern of uneasy, uninformed answers to pat questions for which he ought to have pat answers.

Still, the final clip of this segment of Limbaugh’s show is highly illustrative and instructive. Barack Obama has been known to blank every bit as embarrassingly as either Rick Perry or Herman Cain — and, yet, somehow, he retains his image as a “cerebral, intelligent, academic” president. It’s either/or. Either “uhms” and “uhs” prove idiocy — and Barack Obama is also an idiot — or they don’t. Obviously, it’s the latter — and all the candidates deserve a little slack for their inevitable public speaking gaffes.

What’s more troublesome about Cain is that the plan he has put forth (that infamous 9-9-9!) — presumably after extensive research and careful consideration — is still not particularly compelling as far as policy solutions go. I’d forgive him his off-the-cuff foibles if his on-the-record proposals were more plausible or profound.

Click the image to watch.

Update I: Limbaugh wasn’t the only radio host to sound off on this: Glenn Beck took up the topic, too. But he fell in line with the Twitterverse, calling it Cain’s “latest problem” and saying he seems to have no idea what Libya is.

Update II: This post originally said Limbaugh said all this on radio program yesterday when, in fact, it was today. The post has been corrected above.