The Cain mutiny

November 1, 2011

Everyone is now calling Herman Cain toast because of poorly-handled revelations that the apparent GOP presidential front-runner was the object of a couple of sexual harassment lawsuits that were apparently settled back when he was a lobbyist in the 1990s.

This, of  course, comes on the heels of everyone saying Cain has no chance because, well, he’s Herman freaking Cain, who has no organization, no apparent campaign strategy, sports a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat and hired a chief of staff who doesn’t think twice about puffing a cigarette in a web ad for his candidate.

In other words, this is a guy who the political establishment didn’t ever take seriously. Some Republicans are as scared (I would think) as some Democrats are craving the prospect of a Cain presidential nomination. It’s just like when some damned with or without faint praise other Tea Party favorites like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry in the secret (or not so) hope that someone who actually could appeal to a wider electorate would get the nod (hint: Mitt Romney) without getting too beat up by allies before enemies had their opportunity.

I say everybody, but Nate Silver of 538 has it right: There is a difference between impossible and improbable. A huge difference. Just like the biggest leap is from zero to one, since going from nothing to something is always more disruptive than going from something to more. There is enormous power in the Power of One, even in the Age of the Internet.

The early “defense” put up by/on behalf of Cain is to link him to another very conservative black political figure who rather more defiantly and directly told his attackers to screw off. By using the loaded phrase “high-tech lynching” Cain defenders are saying their guy is being persecuted as much as Clarence Thomas was.

Of course, the battle lines drawn at what is still known as the Thomas/Hill hearings have not receded one inch in two decades. But both Thomas — who was confirmed by the Senate to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after Anita Hill publicly accused him of sexual harassment — and Professor Hill herself have survived and thrived.

“High-tech lynching” meant “live TV” back then. Strangely, it still does, even though this revelation originated (also strangely, as it still often does) in print media.

Will the defense strategy work? Often it’s not the charge which seals ones political fate, but how the charge is handled. Witness Thomas and Bill Clinton on one side, Richard Nixon and Anthony Weiner on the other.

The interesting thing is that, even though the news cycle has accelerated beyond all comprehension because of the internet since the marathon Thomas hearings 20 years ago, this drama — as was Thomas’ — is being played out not in the stiflingly chaotic arena of social media nearly as much as in the controlled atmosphere of the traditional, self-satisfied media. You know, the one which also confidently declared Clinton a goner.

The story was broken by Politico over the weekend, and became a cable TV obsession. Cain’s base (I would imagine) is not especially impacted by the musings of the digerati whose members undoubtedly already hated Cain unless they found him laughable.

Cain does not seem like the kind of guy who would quit, under any circumstances, and certainly not before a primary — not that this trait is necessarily a good thing. But why should he? Given the paucity of staff his campaign is probably net-positive revenue-wise, even if you don’t believe this is all just performance art to sell books. Or especially if you do.

Social media may give life and sustenance to the Arab Spring and #OWS, but it can’t kill off every good (or bad) idea, just yet. Cain’s resilience may not necessarily be a test of the power to resist the internet hoards. But his survival of this episode would show, just a little bit, that talk of a Brave New World where old-fashioned stubbornness in the right hands is not as strong as an angry, virtual crowd, is a tad premature.

Photo: Herman Cain for President 2012


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it is remarkable to me that in all the discussion of herman cain no one seems to have focused on an amazing possibility – that two black men could be running against each other for president – welcome to america!

Posted by jamalmecklai | Report as abusive

Mr Cain needed Charlie Sheen as his campaign manager perhaps..

Posted by terman | Report as abusive

Jamal, are you pointing something out or are you trying to stimulate a debate based on the colour of ones skin? Unfortunately for Cain, he does not have a sponsor like Obama did that will clear the way for him irrespective of his “talent” or experience. It might be preferable for Cain that he does not get the nomination because he if he is serious about the job, he can then go away, do his homework and find out what the population of the US is really looking for and needs in a leader beyond soundbites and a it of razamataz. Then he can become a real challenger for the position.

Posted by ThomasTank | Report as abusive

Cain doesn’t have a sponsor? What on earth do you call the Koch brothers?! ive/2011/10/herman-cains-koch-ties/24678 5/

Posted by Quatermass | Report as abusive

@Quatermass: Your link says nothing about anyone supporting or sponsoring (i.e. providing money) to Mr. Cain. Working for an organization in 2006 does not mean he has received money or is getting financial support in 2011. Where are the facts supporting this?

Posted by stevedebi | Report as abusive