When former pizza magnate and motivational speaker Herman Cain exited the Republican presidential race Saturday, he validated a criticism that has dogged him from the start: more performance art than political campaign, his ‘candidacy’ was fundamentally about elevating his public persona and setting the stage for earning millions from lucrative speaking engagements and lobbying and consulting gigs, and far less about becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Cain came to the stage in Atlanta, Georgia to the tune of the now-familiar indie/new-wave Evangelical Tea Party pop song that accompanied his unbelievable campaign ads, which did a lot to create buzz and energy in the media and among bemused liberal activists and far less to convince broad segments of the public (or the conservative movement) that he had the knowledge or personal qualities requisite for a commander-in-chief. He smiled and cheered his supporters, said that “with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign,” and blamed out-of-touch reporters, a bankrupt political class, and lies and rumors for his demise.
“These false and unproved allegations continue to be spinned in the media and in the court of public opinion so as to create a cloud of doubt over me and this campaign and my family,” Cain said of reports he sexually harassed several women and carried on a 13-year sexual affair.
Lest we get too discouraged, the man who made his name as an inspiring, relentlessly-positive public speaker promised he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I am not going to be silenced, and I am not going away,” Cain roared as his aides literally unveiled a ‘Plan B’ that will feature a new website and a no-doubt-bizarre endorsement of one of his former rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. Reports Sunday and early Monday suggested the lucky guy would be former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Cain also quoted the “Pokemon” movie (he seemed to think it was a legitimate source for ideas about life) as he consoled the fervent throngs of supporters.
“I believe these words came from the Pokemon movie,” Cain said. “Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me.”
In sharp contrast to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s wife Silda Wall looking on, face ashen with grief, as he admitted carrying on affairs with prostitutes, or former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey’s wife Dina Matos struggling to maintain her composure as he called himself a “gay American,” Cain’s wife Gloria smiled and clapped as her husband quit the most public undertaking on Earth because he probably cheat on her or at the very least treated his female employees like subordinate play-things.
The calm, almost triumphant expression on Cain’s face as he announced his campaign’s end suggested someone who knew this coming, his past behavior making it inevitable. He seemed glad to have done well for himself while he had the the spotlight.
But the biggest problem of all with Herman, as a close friend put it, is simple: There is no better poster child for anarchism. The man’s outrageous approach to politics and democracy could only make supporters feel powerless and alienated and the rest of us confused and silly. He serves as a reminder that even if some skills of the corporate world — like organizational and managerial acumen — could theoretically be useful in government, motivational speakers can’t make leaders. Herman Cain’s campaign shakes the very foundations of political philosophy, and skewers the glory (whatever remains of it) of American democracy.
And to the extent that he is a product of corporate America, Cain’s collapse is a fresh indictment of American capitalism. What works in the free market doesn’t necessarily work for human beings — or informed citizens.
Follow Political Correspondent Matt Taylor on Twitter @matthewt_ny