Well, we do live in interesting times:
Four senior citizens walk into a Waffle House planning to go on a killing spree in order to “save the Constitution.”
That’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s the scenario outlined by the FBI in a criminal complaint filed against four Georgia men yesterday who allegedly sought to use the online novel of a frequent Fox News guest named Mike Vanderboegh as a model for a terrorist plot against US government officials.
The full story follows, having to do with the idea that if you’re going to take back the country, our country, from the godless socialists, who may be atheist Muslim fanatics or something, drastic action is necessary, involving ricin and massive death and in this case – waffles. And no, it’s not satire from The Onion – it’s real enough. The folks at Fox News were not pleased. Vanderboegh may not show up on-air for a bit now.
And they weren’t pleased with this:
Goldline International, the California precious metals retailer promoted by Glenn Beck and other right-wing radio hosts, was formally charged with 19 criminal counts – including grand theft by false pretenses, false advertising, and conspiracy – on Tuesday by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office. The criminal complaint also implicates Goldline CEO Mark Albarian, along with two other company executives and two salespeople.
Oops. There goes maybe a third of Fox News’ advertising revenue. Damn – time to scare up a few more of those thirty-second spots for reverse mortgages and for denture cream.
But it’s not been going well on the right side of the political world recently, where Herman Cain leads the field of Republican presidential hopefuls, and leads by a wide margin. After all, there was this rather jaw-dropping exchange on PBS:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you view China as a potential military threat to the United States?
HERMAN CAIN: I do view China as a potential military threat to the United States… They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.
And Kevin Drum reacts:
I know, I know, who cares? Herman Cain is a clown.
But that’s not the point:
What I want to know is this: How on earth can a presidential candidate sit down for an interview with Judy Woodruff, spout a howler about China “trying to develop” nuclear weapons, and not get a follow-up question to suss out whether he has any idea that China has had nuclear capability for nearly half a century? Did Woodruff really not consider that worth drilling into a little bit?
Well, maybe not – news people should remain neutral and not take sides. The first Chinese atomic bomb, code-named 596, was detonated on October 16, 1964, at the Lop Nor nuclear test site – and they’ve been at it ever since. And the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – a cooperative effort to limit the spread of nuclear weapons – came into force in March 1970, and currently there are 189 states party to the treaty. China has been one of those from the start. But news people should remain neutral and not take sides – Cain says the Chinese don’t yet have nuclear weapons, but they’re working on it, and we need to make sure they never get nuclear weapons, ever. So be it.
But this is interesting – Herman Cain Denies That Palestinian People Exist – where he talks at length about “the so-called Palestinian people” – something that very foolish people just made up. But even the Greek historian Herodotus mentions Palestinians, and for a long time Palestine was a real enough place, administered by the Ottoman Empire until World War I, and then overseen by the British Mandate authorities. And what happened in 1948, with the creation of Israel, was a bit controversial – there was the 1947 United Nations decision to partition Palestine and declare Israel a state independent from the British Mandate for Palestine. At the time there were a lot of people who knew themselves as Palestinians, and who the world knew as Palestinians – and a good number of them are still pissed off. But maybe there are really no such people. Or maybe Herman Cain wishes there were no such people, or thinks the world would be a better place if these people would just give it up and call themselves something else. Palestinian statehood would not be an issue if there were no such thing as Palestinians, after all.
Or maybe he just doesn’t care about this foreign policy nonsense, as after all, there is this classic:
In a novel attempt at lowering expectations, Republican candidate Herman Cain told an interviewer recently that he plans to simply answer “I don’t know” if he is asked “gotcha” questions by reporters covering his campaign for president. “I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come,” Cain said. “And when they ask me who the President of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan is, I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?”
You see his point. No one needs to know this nonsense. All you have to be is to be strong. That’s what he goes on to say, and he thinks that will resonate with the voters, who are of course simply fed up with all the odd details of odd places no one ever heard of, always in some sort of crisis. Screw that. Be strong. Let the hired help take care of the details.
But as a model for how a president should be – the strong executive who doesn’t get bogged down in stupid details – that has its limits. Some details aren’t stupid, and some details are deadly:
A defiant Herman Cain accused Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican rival, of orchestrating a smear campaign to destroy his presidential candidacy, as additional accusations emerged Wednesday that Mr. Cain made unwanted sexual overtures to women while he led the National Restaurant Association more than a decade ago.
As he sought to contain the fallout that consumed his campaign for a third day, Mr. Cain shifted his blame from the news media to the Perry campaign. He accused a top political adviser to Mr. Perry of leaking details of one allegation, saying the adviser learned of it while working for Mr. Cain’s failed bid for the Senate in 2004.
A spokesman for Mr. Perry called the suggestion “reckless and false,” and denied that the campaign was the source of the disclosures that have roiled the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Cain took aim at his rival after The Associated Press reported that a third woman had come forward with an allegation of sexual harassment at the restaurant association in the 1990s.
“We now know and have been able to trace it back to the Perry campaign that stirred this up, in order to discredit me and slow us down,” Mr. Cain told supporters by phone Wednesday evening.
But Cain is whining, and lashing out, because this is a mess – more women coming forward and folks from the National Restaurant Association saying that they saw what was going on way back when, and it made them uncomfortable, and they told Cain to stop, and Cain didn’t stop. At least that was the state of play as of late Wednesday evening, November 2, 2011 – subject to revision, as everything keeps changing hour to hour, or what Cain tries to work himself out of this jam, keeps changing hour to hour. But such things happen when you don’t pay attention to details:
The events left the Republican presidential race mired in claims and counterclaims brought about by the sexual harassment allegations, with Mr. Cain blaming Mr. Perry, whose campaign in turn raised the possibility that Mitt Romney’s campaign could be behind the disclosure of the allegations. A spokeswoman for Mr. Romney replied simply, “Not true.”
The chaos spread, although the claims that this was, clearly, the work of the liberal media out to get Cain, or the Democrats, or blatant racism on someone’s part, somehow, as thus, like with Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, nothing more than a high-tech lynching – all that did drop away. Cain somehow settled on Perry as the one dastardly villain, much like Bush settled on Saddam Hussein after 9/11 way back when – it was simple, really, and there kind of was evidence, really, somewhere. And that gives you a preview of what foreign policy would be like in the Herman Cain White House. It’s not a pretty picture, even if it feels awfully familiar.
But there’s this:
It remained an open question how the sexual harassment allegations – and the accusations against the Perry campaign – would play politically for Mr. Cain. While many conservative leaders have voiced their support for him, his abrupt shift from blaming the news media and the liberal left to suggesting that one of his rivals was plotting against him could cause a new divide in the Republican Party.
Yep, Cain said Perry leaked the sexual harassment story to Politico, and Perry says no, Romney, or one of Romney’s people, probably did, and Romney says no way – and no one disputes that the actual story, or stories, are true. You remember the one-word Obama slogan – Hope. For Cain it’s Grope. It’s a mess.
But how did it come to this? At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher is in despair:
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.
But he does toss in the notion that media play their own role in perpetuating what he calls this circus, citing fellow conservative James Poulos:
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.
But Poulos concedes that things are what they are, party-wide:
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.
And Dreher adds this:
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.
But it comes down to this:
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 Republicans 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?
That’s a good question. And Dreher fesses up:
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 – was strong.
And that may be the problem here, or one of the problems.
And here David Frum says it is only a matter of time before the key Herman Cain sexual harassment settlement is unsealed and the exact nature of the charges against Cain will be revealed. Frum predicts, probably rightly, that those charges will most likely turn out to be ambiguous – banter, innuendo and that sort of thing – in short, nothing much. But it won’t matter:
People on the left-hand side of the spectrum will gravely insist that the charges are in fact very serious. They will say that those who dismiss banter as trivial are showing insensitivity to women. They will declare: “It’s about abuse of power, not about sex.”
People on the right-hand side will pounce on the perceived hypocrisy and double standard. What about Bill Clinton? What about John Edwards? It’s the biggest deal on earth when one of our guys makes a joke – but it’s “personal and private” when your guys carry on flagrantly?
People on the right will further demand: We are supposed to watch our tongues lest any negative remark about President Obama be seized upon as “racially charged” – yet black conservatives are to be depicted as sexual predators out of Birth of a Nation and that’s not racial?
And then it turns into all-out culture war:
Unless the accusations against Cain prove both true and objectively heinous, Cain’s fundraising breakthrough (aides say fundraising doubled after the reports emerged) may augur many more – and a man unqualified for the presidency may prove brilliantly suited to a new career as ideological martyr.
And of course the doyen of our culture wars, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, had to have her say:
We have the starchy guy – tall, handsome, intelligent and rich, with a baronial estate – who’s hard to warm up to. And we have the spontaneous guy, who’s charming and easy to warm up to – until it turns out that he has an unsavory pattern with young women and a suspect relationship with facts.
It’s the Republican primary – or “Pride and Prejudice.” Take your pick.
And the Republicans should have known better:
Sure, the dalliance with the grandfather, gospel singer, motivational speaker and self-made millionaire in the black cowboy hat was fun while it lasted, just as it was with Ross Perot, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and The-Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High dude.
You have to give props to the CEO of a pizza company who dons a white choir robe at a press event to sing a Lennon parody, “Imagine There’s No Pizza.”
And you have to give Cain credit for breaking creative new ground in unconventional ways when he responds to a scandal about sexual-harassment complaints when he was chief of the National Restaurant Association in the ’90s by standing up at the National Press Club here and singing a gospel song about “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Danny Boy.”
But she sees what is happening. Cain was never going to be the Republican nominee – “Even Barack Obama couldn’t be lucky enough to waltz past two wacky black conservatives, first Alan Keyes and then Cain.”
Oh, and that Jane Austen thing – Cain was just “a raffish passing fancy” – the Mr. Wickham here, and “a place for Republicans to store their affections while they try to overcome their aversion to Mitt Romney’s Mr. Darcy.” That’s for the English majors.
But Cain is a mess:
If your appeal lies in being refreshingly plain-spoken, you can’t turn into a verbal corn maze. He has contradicted himself even more risibly on his memory of the harassment charges than he has on his abortion position. At first, he said he wasn’t aware of the five-figure settlement to one woman; then, suddenly, he was aware. Instead of the meaning of “is” Cain tried to parse the meaning of “settlement” versus “agreement.” He still claims he doesn’t remember the other five-figure settlement to another woman.
His memory may soon be jogged.
And that should be interesting, or just depressing. This seems to be the death of any pretense of seriousness in our public discourse – not that there was that much there in the first place. But you may want those waffles laced with ricin – or you may want to see the inauguration of President Herman Cain. It may amount to the same thing.