What Cain Showed Us

Posted: Dec 06, 2011 12:01 AM
With all these debates and polls and risings and fallings, we're supposed to think (I think) that there could hardly be a worse presidential selection process than this. Possibly, we should look on the bright side. The process digs up and conveys important information.

The Herman Cain collapse brings these ruminations to mind. Cain was never my label of joy juice, but many Americans, generally of conservative bent, were ready to award him the state fair blue ribbon.

What we learned about him, and about ourselves, amid the noise and clutter of a modern presidential campaign, was worthwhile. First, due to the candidate's missteps in debate (and possibly personal life) we recognized the clay feet below the pressed trousers. Better to find out now than later, surely? Second, the Cain phenomenon taught us a lot about the country's present mood and needs.

That many American conservatives wanted to embrace Herman Cain as savior is information of a vital sort. It speaks to anxieties in need of advertising. Let's start with the fear that the political class has betrayed us and needs help from people who have run a business.

An important piece of information brought to light by the Cain mutiny against the political quarterdeck is the essential color-blindness of people who want the best for their country. I mean, would we have seen anything like this in, say, 1968? I was there. I can tell you we wouldn't have. And this is great. The Obama candidacy showed that liberals -- or "progressives," as liberals now prefer to call themselves -- were ready to go with a black, or, more accurately, mixed-race candidate. So are oodles of conservatives -- but those people are viewed by progressives as yahoos and racists, quicker to use a black man than to follow him.

More information poured out as Cain campaigned. We learned the great political desiderata of the season are decisiveness and a sense of humor. The White House incumbent has neither, which is likely why Cain -- who sought to show how much he had of both qualities -- went over so big. Whether or not you see Cain leading America, you can effortlessly picture him getting large jobs done, not least by behaving in a genial and human fashion. The sheer stateliness of Barack Obama is getting a lot of people down at this point. You see him posing for his own marble statue as distinct from getting down -- because I don't know a better phrase for it -- with the people he purports to lead.

True, George Washington didn't "get down" with the people either. But that was 1789, when it was enough just to do things right, with no obligation to be pleasant. Americans in the 21st century want to be led by someone they can like, even as he goes about the business of solving their problems. That so many took Cain for that kind of man indicates to the surviving Republican candidates how they might reshape their own presentations.

The ascent of Newt Gingrich is the narrative of the moment. I have the odd feeling, actually, the moment could be right for the return of Rick Perry, if our governor -- I am a Texan -- could contrive to become less boisterous and fast-off-the-mark. Perry has strong convictions and decisive qualities inadequately appreciated. He has, moreover, a good-ol'-boy touch -- a zest, an enthusiasm, a quick way with a smile - that one could call, in a sense, Cain-like.

This isn't a Perry endorsement. It's an appraisal of the evidence that flies around like campaign-trail dust. The present campaign isn't especially enjoyable -- not with a country's fate awaiting the outcome -- but if you look steadily, you can read America's story: a great and various people, vexed, anxious, worn-out; ready, nevertheless, to pledge allegiance and go back to work in what used to be called the spirit of America.

The candidate who can best understand that yearning and tap it, is the man who will lead the country through its present crises.