Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cain: GOP's Latest Showman

This opinion piece, appearing in this morning's Des Moines Register, rips the veneer off of the GOP's public face. A must read.....

Written by HARRY BROD

HARRY BROD is professor of philosophy and humanities at the University of Northern Iowa. Contact:

With the most recent poll showing Herman Cain leading in Iowa by a margin of 10 points over his closest rival, it's time to take a longer look at the Cain candidacy, a longer view that looks back to the former candidate whose mantle all Republican contenders now claim, Ronald Reagan.

There's a direct line from Reagan to Cain, but it's not in terms of values or issues, where Reagan was much too moderate for the current crowd. I mean the line from Reagan the actor to Cain the motivational speaker, the line that underscores the increasing victory of style over substance.

Sincerity is everything in politics. If you can fake that you've got it made, goes the old saying. Renowned physician Oliver Sacks (the basis for Robin Williams' character in the movie "Awakenings") tells of patients with a condition that turns them into sort of human lie detectors - they spot insincerity, and find it hilarious. Sacks once walked by a room in which a group of such patients were laughing hysterically. Peeking in to see what was going on, he found them glued to the TV, watching a Reagan speech.

Reagan understood the importance of stagecraft. He was controversially the first president to return a military salute, a violation of military protocol. Not even five-star General Eisenhower did that as president. He respected that the privilege of saluting comes with the uniform, not from the title of commander-in-chief.

Cain's got a commanding stage presence, too, but he takes too much command. He reacts to interview questions thrown at him like a batter at home plate, swinging hard at pitches he likes but ignoring others, even those in the strike zone. One wonders if the swagger Republicans like will continue to be popular. Americans tend to want their chief as well as pizza executives to answer the questions they're asked.

Today the way to convince people you're doing or would do a good job as president is by appearing rather than being presidential. When he tried to actually function as head of our executive branch President Bill Clinton was criticized as a "policy wonk," and President Barack Obama tries hard to avoid that label. As far as I can tell, wonkiness is a charge that they're trying to do their job.

Or at least that they're trying to do the job the Constitution envisions for them. But the line from Reagan to Cain traces a different job description, emptying the job of real content and leaving it as a figurehead position, not so much chief executive as national spokes model.

There is indeed a policy agenda behind the Republican emptying out of the presidency, but it's not spoken out loud. The policy is privatization, meaning increasing corporatization of our lives, with the essential functions of once public institutions like schools, prisons and the military increasingly outsourced to private contractors, putting them outside the democratic process by which they could be controlled.

That's why the Republican Party is out to prevent government from functioning. Convince people that government is inherently dysfunctional, and corporations are there to fill in the gap. The less government does, the more unregulated and excess profit there is to be made.

For those puzzled by Cain's new ad featuring his campaign manager blowing his cigarette smoke into the camera while the song sings "I am America," it's Cain repaying his corporate sponsor. He got his political start as a Washington lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association and made his mark by turning it into a front organization for the tobacco industry by opposing regulations on smoking in restaurants, a move opposed by many restaurant owners who thought his actions were bad for small businesses.

The lines spoken by candidates in the Reagan-Cain line are written by someone else. These candidates are a mouthpiece for the corporate interests behind them, and their seemingly presidential style is just skillful corporate ventriloquism. I'll let you figure out what that makes them.

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