Journalism

We're still waiting to learn what Herman Cain meant

I ordinarily like Chris Cillizza’s writing well enough, but “What Herman Cain Meant” missed the mark early on. The rest of his article may have its merits, but I take exception to the following rather striking logical fallacy.

“That Cain collapsed in a heap of allegations of sexual impropriety and titanic levels of muddled messaging — all of which culminated in his decision to suspend his campaign Saturday — is proof that an unconventional approach to politics can only get you so far.”

So, flipped over, the proof that an unconventional approach to politics can only get you so far is that Cain collapsed in a heap of allegations and poor messaging. It’s only because he was unconventional, you see, that his real or alleged past caught up with him. It was his lack of conventionality that led him to spout one inane, idiotic thing after another. Forget mixed messaging, even if he’d had “fixed” messaging, he’d have just sounded like a consistent moron.

If the allegations are true (we may never know, whatever we may feel about them), the alleged behaviors are all too conventional. If true, nothing about sexual harassment, sexual assault, or philandering has anything to do with taking an unconventional approach to politics. As for garden variety stupidity, that hardly needs allegations. He was his own best witness on that front. This, too, is far too conventional, and also has absolutely nothing to do with taking an unconventional approach to politics. No relation, no causation.

Let’s not muddle the messaging by suggesting Cain failed because of unconventionality. He broke under the weight of his own conventionalism. Even innocent of the allegations, some of his most damning character flaws showed through very clearly in his responses. His only failure in “unconventionalism” was lack of the necessary political savvy to slap the right lipstick on the right pig at the right time. Sadly, we have too much of that conventionality at hand. If only more candidates would collapse from such a lack of savvy.

I’m sure there’s an excellent article waiting to be written about the demise of Cain’s candidacy. This wasn’t it.

Portrait by Paul Szep.

2 replies »

  1. right, in fact, he failed for the most conventional of reasons, even for our latest rogue: he didn’t know anything, from taxes to foreign affairs, and he couldn’t control his own narrative, seemingly happy to contradict five, or was it six, complainants, some of whom were paid for their inconvenience. Looks tiresomely conventional to me, packing bad preparation with specious character.

  2. my observation, from gary hart to edmund muskie to herman cain, is that the scrutiny created by a national campaign is simply not understandable until you have experienced it. these guys who have been senators or governors or ceo’s or celebrities think that they’ve been under the spotlight, but they simply cannot understand the intensity of the national press. tmz aint the new york times. they think the tame press in juneau or austin or whereever in the heck they come from was tough, but they just don’t know how ferocious and relentless the media can be. as huntsman just said in turning down the trump debate (although i said it first,) his party does not get the difference between show business and politics. cain did not get the difference between being a bloviating radio personality and a bona fide candidate.

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