The Need-to-Know Presidency

Here, courtesy of Think Progress, is Herman Cain doing a little preemption for when future interviews reveal him to be not particularly knowledgeable about the kind of stuff a president needs to know:

Yes, he said, "Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan." And it's good to know that before he departs for a state visit to a foreign country, he will indeed learn the name of that country's president.

Strategically, though, this is pretty smart. Instead of bothering to inform himself about the world or the policy challenges he'd face were he to become president, he can reframe the question, so that his very failure to display knowledge is evidence that he's focused on what's important. His ignorance becomes an asset, demonstrating his commonsense approach. You couldn't get away with that in a Democratic primary, but apparently some Republicans are just eating it up.

I'll grant him one thing, though: The kind of pop-quiz interviews Cain is referencing here are indeed idiotic. Even if it doesn't lend itself to a snappy video clip, it would be much more useful to have candidates asked probing, detailed questions, with follow-ups, that go into depth about a particular topic. That will be much more illuminating than "Can you name the president of Uzbekistan?" or "Do you know what GDP growth was last quarter?"

But foreign policy is just one of the many things Herman Cain apparently has not yet felt the need to inform himself about. Health care would be another. In fact, I have yet to hear him give an answer to a question on any issue that displayed any command of substance. Every candidate delivers their sound bites and their pleasing over-simplifications, but Cain seems to be particularly uninformed about the things that government does. Maybe it's because he's never actually worked in government on any level, although there are candidates holding elected office who are equally ignorant (a certain congresswoman from Minnesota comes to mind).

And by the way, the president of Uzbekistan is Islam Karimov, who has ruled over the country with an iron fist for two decades. We basically turned a blind eye to his repression for a long time, because they let us use an air base in their country to support our mission in Afghanistan, but then they kicked us out in 2005. It was kind of a big deal at the time. If Cain wants to read up about the country, he can go here.