Opinion

With the Cain circus, US politics hits a new low

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James Poulos
Daily Caller Columnist
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      James Poulos

      James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller and a contributor to Forbes, Ricochet, and Vice. Recently he has been the host of <a href="http://www.pjtv.com/?cmd=mpg&mpid=349&series-id=89"> The Bottom Line</a> and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is <a href="http://jamespoulos.com/"> jamespoulos.com</a> and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.

Herman Cain’s run for president was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Instead, it’s brought together the campaign season’s least inspirational and most idiotic forces.

If the aim of Cain’s candidacy was a cheerful, dynamic insurgency, free of the burdens of a typical campaign, the result has been an all-too-predictable circus, completely captured by politics as usual — and increasingly indistinguishable from it.

As if that weren’t bad news enough, here’s the kicker: We’re all to blame.

In any presidential contest, there’s no escape from the so-called “silly season.” The time of great and noble virtue in democratic politics is long past, if it ever really existed. But the ridiculousness surrounding the Cain campaign is unforgivable — especially given this election’s high stakes, and the profundity of crisis faced by the country and the world.

Tally up the mounting absurdities and try not to be flabbergasted:

  • Long stretches of presidential debates reveal which candidate can criticize the 9-9-9 plan — a topic of intense focus for the same reason you hum Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” jingle — by coining the most outlandish attack pun …
  • A political outsider fields basic questions about his approach to fundamental policy matters by invoking the wise counsel of expert bureaucrats …
  • Hot-button issues, including illegal immigration and abortion, become fodder for jokes, which contain a kernel of truth of some size or another, yet are not intended to offend anyone …
  • The candidate with the best claim to being the Republicans’ “anti-Obama” adopts an almost virtual “50-state strategy,” racking up straw poll victories on the strength of his appeal as an ideological projection screen for voters disenchanted with the usual suspects …
  • Musty old “sexual misconduct” claims, settled long ago, not-so-mysteriously resurface, to the delight of a media machine that prides itself on a devotion to “the real issues” …

And the list goes on. This is to say nothing of Cain’s donor-funded book tour, the rancid spectacle of liberal race-baiting, or the pathetic frenzy surrounding Cain’s new ad showing chief of staff Mark Block — gasp — smoking.

With every farce, there’s another person, constituency, or party at fault — for running plays from political playbooks that ought to be hurled in a fire pit. The left disgraces itself in a festival of Uncle-Tomming. The right resorts to the same defensive boosterism for which it mocks its enemies so well. The media salivates over whatever is of the least substance — as, every week, a freshly manufactured fetish object takes pride of place. Cain runs an operation so unready for prime time that Sarah Palin can’t take it seriously, preferring — how low the bar — Newt Gingrich.

Sadly, the Cain Train is now the locomotive of a Republican race for the White House that’s run off the rails. The grand theme is a total lack of seriousness. Not seriousness in the self-serious sense that, say, Jon Huntsman would use it. Seriousness in the sense that everyone, from Cain to his fans and critics to their proxies in the chattering class, seems positively thrilled to fight to the death over the trivialities of political theater — presumably because a loss on that ground means exclusion from the battle over what is actually to be done in America.