Herman Cain's Known Unknowns

If you haven't seen it already, here's a remarkable video of Herman Cain struggling to answer a question about whether he disagreed with the actions President Obama took in supporting the Libyan uprising. From the first moment, it's something we almost never see in a presidential candidate. He looks like a student who forgot to study struggling through an oral exam. He asks for hints, he stares at the ceiling, he wrestles to come up with a coherent thing to say. But beyond Cain looking very, very foolish, there are actually some interesting things going on here. The point that will be getting all the attention is where Cain says, "I do not agree with the way he handled it, for the following reasons — No, that's a different one. (Pauses) I gotta go back, see. (Pauses) Got all this stuff twirling around in my head." Yeah, apparently. Anyhow, just watch:

The Libya engagement happened while Cain was already running for president -- it's not like he's being asked to take a position on the Pelopennesian War. In a real campaign, when something like Libya comes up, the candidate sits down with his policy people and discusses the situation -- what's happening, what the administration is doing, what the options are, what a persuasive position for him to take might be. But since Cain is essentially running a promotion tour for the self-help enterprise known as The Hermanator Experience in the guise of a presidential campaign, he either doesn't have those policy people or doesn't think he needs to bother with getting up to speed on issues that are emerging.

But if you can get beyond how foolishly uninformed Cain is on this, this video is actually weirdly appealing. He's so desperately at sea here that he can't act the way a normal politician acts, which is to just bullshit your way through it. By the time he gets around to what sounds like a criticism of Obama, he winds up offering a critique of what is required for a presidential candidate, not a president. He says, "It's not a simple yes/no because there are different pieces, and I would have gone about assessing the situation differently, which might have caused us to end up in the same place. But where I think more could have been done was, what's the nature of the opposition." In other words, the only thing he can come up with for what he would have done differently than Obama is that he would have been, get this, more informed than the president was about the situation. "I would have done a better job of determining who the opposition is," he says. Which is kind of like Rick Perry telling you he'd be a better president than Obama because of his superior ability to keep his ideas straight in high-pressure performance situations.

Why is Cain saying this? My guess is that it's because somewhere in the back of his mind he remembers conservative talk-show hosts charging that by supporting the Libyan opposition, Obama was helping Moozlem terrorist types. And indeed, this is what they were saying for a while (see here, or here). So that's about all he can come up with. But here's where he really seems to be criticizing the demands put on candidates:

I'm a much more deliberate decision-maker...Some people want to say, well, as president you're supposed to know everything. No you don't. I believe in having all of the information, as much of it as I possibly can, rather than making decision or making a statement about whether I totally agreed or didn't agree when I wasn't privy to the entire situation. There might be some things there that might have caused me to feel differently. I'm not trying to hedge on the question, it's just that that's my nature as a businessman. I need to know the facts as much as possible. I need to know all the alternatives. For example, you might have mentioned that even within the administration, there were different views. I would want to hear all those views, look at all the information, then I make the decision as the commander in chief.

This is a variation on the point he was making when he noted that he didn't know who the president of "Ubeki-beki-stan-stan-stan" is -- he may not know much now, but once he's president, he'll get up to speed on what's important. I'll bet if you pressed him, Cain would probably admit that of course President Obama heard different views before he made his decision on how to proceed on Libya. But Cain will tell you that he's just a candidate, so what does he know?

Will this hurt Cain more than all the other times he's displayed his ignorance about policy, current events, government, and those other things one might expect someone running for president to have a handle on? Probably not. I suppose it could make Republicans already concerned about his electability have even more doubts. But to his supporters, it'll be just more proof that Herman Cain is no silver-tongued politician. Which is why they like him already.