Just as he was being extricated Friday from a gaggle of local media (note: not “just as he was extricating himself;” this man is like Bill Clinton in his apparent relish for human contact), I was able to spring one eyeball-to-eyeball question on Herman Cain: “Are you the flavor of the month?”
To which his aforesaid eyeballs lit up with apparent glee. “No sir!” he exulted, in the manner of someone who — fame-wise, if not financially— has just won a lottery and knows he has enough to last him quite a while.
Cain, the Memphis-born African-American entrepreneur who has come out of nowhere to become the latest leader of the GOP polls for the 2012 presidential race, may indeed last longer than did Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congressman who won the Iowa straw poll back in August and had sunk like a stone since.
And he may pack enough heat to outfire Rick Perry, the Texas governor who was God’s gift to conservatives when he entered the race a month ago but whose fumbling and inconsistencies have left him looking God-forsaken of late.
A more serious problem is whether Cain can stay the course against Mitt Romney, the well-heeled former Massachusetts governor who has managed to keep an even keel at or near the top of the polls despite widespread mistrust in GOP ranks about his authenticity.
Cain, who kept a crowd of just under a thousand standing in the sun at Bartlett’s Freeman Park for 40 minutes of nonstop oratory and had them clamoring for more, is a throwback to that once flourishing but now rare species of American politician — the down-home spellbinder.
Nor were they the only blacks on hand. There was a fairly generous sprinkling of them in the crowd, and Cain, commenting tongue-on-cheek on frequent allegations that the Tea Party is racist in sentiment, said, “I see an awful lot of black racists out here today!” Referring to himself as “an American black conservative [who] left the Democratic plantation,” Cain would teasingly chastise entertainer Harry Belafonte for calling him “a bad apple” and proclaim, “Black or white, America is thinking for itself.”
Whether he was enthusing, “I like my Bible and my guns,” or defending his unique “9-9-9” revenue plan or flattering the crowd as co-conspirators against a boneheaded establishment and a tricky media, Cain never stopped enjoying himself and establishing a communion with his listeners. There was none of that angry cost-accountant’s feel to it that you get from some of Cain’s more traditional competitors for the Republican nomination.
“The American people have decided that enough is enough…They’re tired of political answers….They want a problem-solver in the white House,” declared Cain from a raised wooden platform when he finally arrived, after an hour or so of warm-up speeches by local Tea Party organizer Mark Herr and various other Cain backers.
Other explanations offered by the amiable erstwhile Godfather Pizza head for several recent straw poll victories on the GOP circuit and his dramatic and unexpected rise to neck-and-neck status with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “The voice of the people is more powerful than the voice of the media…Message is more powerful than money, and the American people like the message….I don’t know how to speak Political Speak. I tell it like it is.”
Cain better hope that message is more powerful than money, because, as he acknowledged, Romney, Perry, and others seeking the Republican nomination “have raised at least ten times as much money.” As for the message, he purposely keeps it simple. Although “9-9-9” — standing for a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent national income tax, and a 9 percent corporate tax — was attacked as simplistic and unsound by his competitors in the most recent GOP presidential debate, it is unquestionably more concrete than anything they have proposed.
The plan, which would involve the scrapping of the present internal revenue system, with its “thousands” of loopholes and complications, is “simple, transparent, efficient…fair,” and “revenue-neutral,” Cain maintains, promising to institute it within 20 days of taking office.
His prescriptions for trade policy are equally bare-bones. How to deal with China as a trade rival? “Outgrow them!” Foreign policy? Extend the Reagan foreign policy of “peace through strength” as “peace through strength and clarity.” And by clarity he means knowing who your enemies are and who your friends are and acting accordingly.
Beyond naming Israel as one of the latter, Cain was less than forthcoming about specifics. “You’re not going to see me shoot from the lip!”
Cain was equally cautious about who his policy advisors were, though he had established as a primary tenet of his prospective administration that he would “surround myself with the right people.” Whenever he is asked about his advisors, Cain said he responds, “I’m not going to tell you. They’re my advisors not yours. They just want to know who my smart people are so they can attack them.”
Specifically, he told the crowd, he was not going to reveal who was advising him on foreign policy.
As it happens, his chief foreign policy advisor was with Cain in Bartlett. That would be J.D. Gordon, a former U.S. Navy commander, Fox News commentator, and current communications consultant who served as an official spokesperson for former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Gordon, who acknowledged to the Flyer his role as foreign policy adviser to Cain, doubles as his press representative, and was detailing a busy itinerary, which this week had the candidate making multiple stops on a bus tour of Tennessee.
Before taking his leave from his makeshift platform in Freeman Park to begin that bus tour, Cain had reminded his listeners of those words in the Declaration of Independence concerning the rights of Americans to “alter” or “abolish” their form of government and promised to do a little of both, specifically with relation to the nation’s tax code, and he concluded, “My fellow patriots. The American people are going to raise some Cain in 2012.”