My Hat, My Cain, Jeeves
It’s not that I feel sorry for Herman Cain. I don’t. He is, after all, a heartless rich asshole who couldn’t care less about people like you an me, an intellectual flea who only has one idea and a bad one at that, and very possibly a serial sexual abuser. But he is also the latest in a long line of dolts who learned the limits of entitlement in a way that’s almost tragic.
The United States has seen more than its share of presidential candidates who lack the mental heft to move a letter from upper- to lower-case; it’s a tradition that dates back to the dubious glories of the Anti-Masons and the Know-Nothings. But in recent years, it’s positively thrived, at least within limits. Especially since the Reagan Era, when the idea that being successful in business was not just a virtue but the only virtue became accepted wisdom even outside of plutocratic circles, Americans have expressed deep (if not particularly wide) interest in having a CEO run the country. It matters little that assuming that because someone runs a successful business, they can also govern a nation makes as much sense as thinking you’d be a great novelist because in grade school, you were good at spelling. This can be surmised with a mere roll call of some of the other corporate types once thought worthy — by themselves, if not by the majority of voters — of holding the highest office in the land: not only were they manifestly unqualified to wield political power, most of them weren’t even particularly good businessmen.
Lee Iacocca was a murderous hustler whose legendary “turnaround” of Chrysler was predicated on a taxpayer-funded bailout; his sole activity since then, other than endlessly capitalizing on his overinflated reputation, has been to head a failed company that made electric bicycles. Peter Uebberoth organized the most embarrassing Olympic Games since Munich ’72, and his stint as baseball’s top man was a disaster marked by collusion, incompetence and petty vendettas. Before Donald Trump wised up and began capitalizing on his reputation as a self-aggrandizing clown, he was mostly known for pissing away his huge inheritance on bad real estate investments and overpriced monuments to his own ego. Carly Fiorina was forced out of the HP directorial chair, and was nicknamed the “anti-Steve Jobs” for her failed innovations and her lousy reputation. Al Checchi piloted Northwest Airlines into near-bankruptcy; Meg Whitman left behind a trail of bitterness and bad vibes at every company she served; and Michael Huffington used his company’s success as a piggy bank to fund his ever-changing whimsy.
Even when big businessmen actually won the presidency, the result was disaster. The first “CEO president” was well-connected newspaper publisher Warren G. Harding; he brought those connections with him to the White House, and they proceeded to bleed the country dry, becoming the most corrupt administration America had ever seen. Herbert Hoover was likewise a president who knew that the business of America was business, and he proved it by letting the rich grow ever richer while the rest of the country spiraled even further into the Great Depression. Ronald Reagan succeeded precisely because he wasn’t a businessman; he was a turncoat and snitch who was well-rewarded for his toadying, and provided an affable jus’-folks face to smile at America while his corporate cronies robbed it blind. George W. Bush was a CEO, but he was a rotten one; his success as president, like Reagan’s was the ability to project a big fat target that distracted everyone while his handlers ran roughshod in the background. As someone once said about the eerily similar Dan Quayle, everyone who’s ever worked at a McDonald’s has worked for a guy like George W. Bush. Even Ross Perot — indisputably a skilled executive who’s made money on every venture he’s attempted — is manifestly unqualified to hold political office; he’s a paranoid, vindictive nut who’s easily distracted by trivia and thinks he can accomplish difficult political tasks by fiat.
Still, the CEOs keep running, because they mistakenly conceive of the presidency as the chairmanship of America, Inc., and the voters flock to them (up to a point) because, despite the absurd claims of jealously and resentment fomented by conservative propagandists against Occupy Wall Street protesters, America loves a success story and has always valorized its wealthy. The reason that business executives will never be good politicians is simple to explain: a politician is a public servant, and business executives do not think of the public as their constituency or responsibility — more like something between an asset and a meal — and they do not perceive their roles as servants, but rather masters. But they keep on trying, and the public stands behind them, right up to the point where they stand even a tiny little chance of getting elected — at which point they head for the hills, where some bland political timeserver can be found to restore normality.
Enter Herman Cain.
The ex-Godfather’s Pizza homunculus is easy to pity, only because he clearly has no chance of being elected, but he has foolishly heeded all the whispers in his ears and placards at Tea Party rallies and paid-for editorials that assure him that he does. He is a quintessential CEO, and thus a perfect example of why the breed has so little skill at governance. He barks at reporters who ask him uncomfortable questions, because a CEO can ignore the press and a president cannot. He calls unemployed people moochers and bums, because a corporation has no responsibility to people like that but a government does. He endlessly parrots a patently ridiculous tax policy, because you can run a business according to any old crazy plan you want, but you can’t run a national economy that way. He considers matters of foreign policy to fall into the category of “trick questions”, because a CEO doesn’t have to know or care about what’s happening in Uzi-bekki-bekki-stan-stan, but a president does. He speaks of being able to choose which issues he will address when he’s in office, because businessmen can pick what issues occupy their time, but politicians cannot. And he is infuriated that the sexual harassment scandals he managed to hush up have returned, because a wealthy private citizen can pay his problems to go away, but a candidate for high office can’t.
And so he continues to lumber about, does Herman Cain, growing more frustrated every day, because he fails to grasp the fundamental difference between public service and private profit. He is the same man he was 20 years ago, with the same opinions; why, then, all of the sudden, is he being yelled at for his positions on Israel, doubted on the seriousness of his candidacy, quizzed about the legitimacy of his economic ideas? He’s rich, ain’t he? Even his race is no longer his own: hoping to challenge his rival on the “Niggerhead” issue, he learned that his own party’s support was contingent on not shedding light on an issue they would see permanently kept in the dark. If nothing else, he should have learned the score when super-villain/former Vice President Dick Cheney began making evil gurgles in his direction: Cheney made it clear that he won’t support the candidacy of any idea-deficient lunkhead who isn’t personally in his pocket. You might even feel sympathy for him, until you remember there’s at least 7 million reasons not to.