Cain’s gifts are as apparent in debates and speeches as they were on his $99 videotape seminars from a decade ago: the hammy presentation, the sharp wit, the blustery assertion that every problem is simple and solvable through positive thinking and willpower alone. What’s vaulted him ahead of the other Republican candidates is his appeal to the gruff certainty and shallow understanding of politics that leads Americans of every persuasion to believe that if only someone had the guts and gumption to confront those dithering politicians in Washington, then all the country’s ailments would dissolve.
This thirst for easy solutions has clearly given Cain a terrific boost. They’re what every motivational speaker is peddling beneath the “success strategies” and “leadership principles.” This is also why Mitt Romney’s 59-point, 160-page economic plan has failed to register with anything like the force of 9-9-9. Romney’s mistake was to produce a plan that actually tried to meet the challenge of running the country in a serious way. By now, many Americans have become acculturated to thinking about the world and its challenges as Herman Cain does—some of them by attending the same high-energy motivational seminars where Cain and politicians including Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, and George W. Bush regularly appear.
This same culture is just as obviously the source of Cain’s deficiencies as a possible President. Take his foreign policy. He has declined to state a position on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan because he has not yet been briefed by military leaders. Instead, he says he’ll apply his principles to producing a policy that is “bold and clear” once he is elected. He has invoked John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as masters of foreign policy whom he admires, although the two men view America’s role in the world very differently. What Cain really offers is a Zig Ziglar foreign policy: Optimistic, resolute, and devoid of substance.