The Freak Show: Who Is Herman Cain?

The Republican nominating process has been through more twists and turns than the latest roller coaster at Great Adventure. Initially Mitt Romney was the heavy favorite, but because the conservative base isn’t exactly thrilled with him they turned to Michele Bachmann, who quickly faded when she continued to prove herself a nitwit. Rick Perry was wooed by the party faithful and convinced to be the savior, but his poor debate performances, coupled with the fact that it turns out he has some sympathy for the children of illegal immigrants and for vaccines that may help prevent serious illnesses, soon relegated him to the back of the pack. Chris Christie was courted but wisely decided to sit out the festivities.

At this point, the most unlikely of candidates rose to the top of the polls. A somewhat unknown, non-politician named Herman Cain has caught the fancy of the Republicans. He is best known as the former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He also served on the Kansas City Federal Reserve Board, and on numerous corporate boards of directors. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t start the Godfather’s Pizza chain; he ran it for the Pillsbury Company, and eventually partnered with some investors to buy it.

As president of the National Restaurateur Association, Cain very vocally opposed President Clinton’s plan to rescue the health care system, which got him interested in politics. In 2004, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Georgia but did not win in the primaries. In 2010, Cain addressed more than 40 Tea Party rallies, and became somewhat of a YouTube sensation, fueling his entry into the race.

His major selling point, as you might guess since it is the Republican’s “cure-all” for every problem we have, is a tax plan that would constitute a major tax cut. He calls it the “9-9-9” plan. It calls for a nine percent personal income tax rate for everyone, a nine percent business tax rate and a nine percent national sales tax.

Now, I have no problem with his lack of experience as a politician. In fact, I think that’s a big plus; we have had experienced politicians for years and they’ve screwed things up in a major way. However, this “9-9-9” plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. In theory, it’s an interesting proposal, but in practice, it has some major issues.

First and foremost, it would be a major shift in who pays the most taxes. Lower income and middle class Americans would be paying significantly more, because the national sales tax portion would raise the price of everything you buy. If you spend $20,000 on a car, for instance, that nine percent raises the price by $1,800. And since there would be no tax on capital gains, the wealthy that make most of their money on investments would pay hardly any tax at all. As presently proposed, it would be one of the most unfair tax systems we could devise.

It also lends itself to easy manipulation by politicians in the future. If it was enacted, how long before someone decides it should be 10 percent? Or 12 percent? It would be an easy revenue producer, not unlike New Jersey raising the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent. For some reason, sales tax didn’t count, and I suspect it would be the same on a national level.

Additionally, analysts estimate it could bring in as much as $200 billion less per year in revenue. That’s fine in the future, when spending might be cut back and the deficit is under control, but if we are serious about trying to deal with the deficit, common sense says we can’t have a massive cut in revenue, no matter what the Republican base wants.

On social issues, which are of great importance to the right wing party base, Cain initially gave mixed signals, but he clarified his stand to try and placate them. “I will oppose government funding of abortion,” he said. “I will veto any legislation that contains funds for Planned Parenthood. I will do everything that a President can do, consistent with his constitutional role, to advance the culture of life.”

He is also coming under some fire for a seeming flip-flop on gay marriage. In an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Cain said that he supports a Federal ban on gay marriage. “There’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act,” he said, “And that can cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the Federal level because of that.” But he also said he “used to” believe gay marriage was a state issue, but has since changed his mind. But it turns out that “used to” was less than a week ago; when Cain told Meet The Press that he wouldn’t seek a constitutional ban for same-sex marriage.

Looks like this “non-politician” is fast turning into one, having quickly learned that he has to appease the base of the party and is willing to change his positions to do so.

Can Herman Cain actually win the Republican nomination? I would say that’s extremely doubtful. He will most likely turn out to be another flavor of the month. It would be interesting, of course, if the Republican Party actually did nominate him, and we had two African-Americans as the major party candidates. I’m just not sure the Republican Party has come that far yet.

Mitt Romney is still the most electable Republican, in terms of mainstream voters looking for an alternative to President Obama. I believe he will end up being the nominee, with Rick Perry poised to make somewhat of a comeback and be the main challenger.

Herman Cain? A little too far out there to be a serious contender. An interesting sideshow along the way, but his likeable demeanor can only vary him so far. When I come down to it, he can’t stay in the ring with the big boys.