Herman Cain

The clichéd phrase “debate season” is inescapable. There was a Republican debate on CNBC Wednesday night. Tomorrow will see another shootout, this one down in South Carolina. But these events seem to have won few fans. They are being mocked and denounced by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to MSNBC contributors.

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Let us imagine for a moment that a woman came forth claiming that Barack Obama had sexually harassed her fifteen years ago. What would the reaction be from liberal partisans, and assorted other supporters? We can easily imagine that there would be urgent questions about the motivations of the woman who came forward, and the media outlets that broke the news. There would likely be a furious attendance to the possibly “racist” aspects of the coverage.

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The polygraph test: last resort of the accused and desperate. In 2009, cocktail waitress Rachel Uchitel told two tabloids she’d take a lie-detector test to disprove charges she had an affair with Tiger Woods. Earlier this year, Lindsay Lohan offered prosecutors the same deal after she pinched a $2500 necklace. Facing new allegations of sexual assault, Herman Cain wants in too. While one intrepid Atlanta P.I.

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I've been wrestling all day with what wisdom to draw from last night's Republican debate, other than the dazzlingly brilliant insight, shared by a few other outlets, that the debate was not good for Rick Perry. I've finally given up, and am instead going to ask a question: why, exactly, are there are going to be Republican primaries? Seriously, folks. Normally at this time in the cycle we have some sort of a competition underway. Candidates are building a campaign infrastructure in the early states, wooing local officials, holding town hall meetings in Derry and Dubuque.

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After last night’s spectacle, the American public—or at the least, American pundits—would be forgiven for demanding (or whimpering for) an end to the litany of Republican debates. After all, they’re unedifying, agonizing, somewhat grotesque, and offer little of substance aside from a terrifying glimpse into the dark, pitiless recesses of the Republican soul.  All of that is clear enough. But allow for a modest proposal: Rather than fewer debates, what we need is more. Many more.

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The Newtonians

Every politician needs a base. Mitt Romney has the business establishment. Ron Paul has libertarians. Rick Santorum has social conservatives. Michele Bachmann had Tea Partiers for a while, before Herman Cain won them over. But who’s behind Newt Gingrich? ’90s nostalgics? People with a penchant for shoddily researched history? His rise in the polls—from about 6 percent to 12 percent—has only made the question more intriguing.

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Has Herman Cain’s campaign always been a joke, or were pundits right to take it somewhat seriously? In the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment levied against him, was the media asking the wrong questions by focusing on how it might help or hurt his supposed “candidacy”—as opposed to, say, his book sales? The question of what makes a “serious” candidate for the presidency is at least as old as such twentieth-century developments as state primaries and electronic media.

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Dust Storm

The GOP’s favorite punching bag right now is a government regulation that doesn’t exist. “Our goals include ... overturning the EPA’s proposed regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote in an August Washington Post op-ed. There was no such proposed rule. “We’ll stop excessive federal regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Speaker John Boehner similarly pledged in a September 15 speech to the Economic Club of D.C. Still, there was no such proposal.

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Nor was I for Ross Perot, a man who (as of 1992) had made a $3 billion dollar fortune and headed a major hi-tech corporation, actually two. But he was—let’s be frank (and rhyme)—a real crank. Frankly, I can’t remember whether many people took him seriously as a thinking politician. Still, with his money he seemed able to stake a claim on the attentions of the electorate and attracted the support of millions of voters who would not have gone to the polls were their choice limited to either George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

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As his campaign implodes in the face of sexual harassment allegations, Herman Cain’s Super PAC has launched an ad featuring Clarence Thomas’s 1991 charge that similar harassment allegations represented “a high tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” “Don’t let the left do it again,” the ad concludes. In a tight spot, both Cain and Thomas played the race card they had previously criticized, and both denied the sexual harassment allegations rather than taking responsibility.

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