Herman Cain

Boston Legal

During a Republican presidential forum in South Carolina on September 5, the conservative Princeton political philosopher Robert George asked the candidates a provocative question. George, the intellectual architect of the campaign against gay marriage and abortion rights, has long argued that Congress should declare war on the Supreme Court by passing a federal ban on abortion that clearly violates Roe v. Wade. Would the candidates be willing to sign such a ban—intentionally provoking a constitutional crisis?

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In the early part of the 20th century, when Jewish entertainers like Al Jolson would toss Yiddish references to gedaempfte Rinderbrust (beef brisket) and the like into their routines, it was widely seen as an expression not of anti-Semitic baiting, but as a cocky sort of pride. Yes, the performers were intentionally making a point of their ethnicity, but it was in the form of a shout-out to the Jews in their audience, not as a wink to their would-be persecutors.

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Herman Cain’s recent stumbles over substantive issues have a way of making Rick Perry seem like the Stephen Hawking of politics. In the midst of a softball CNN interview last week, he appeared to abandon his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance. The former pizza magnate also said that he hypothetically might swap terrorists held on Guantanamo for an American soldier—and then embarrassingly backtracked during the Las Vegas debate.

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The Heritage Heresy

Overshadowed by the immigration rumble between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in the Las Vegas debate was a string of statements that sounded awfully heretical -- a sign, perhaps, that economic anxiety and even the Occupy Wall Street protests are poking ever the tiniest holes in the bubble of GOP orthodoxy. First, there was Rick Santorum noting for the second straight debate that western Europe now has higher rates of upward mobility than the land of Horatio Alger -- and this time he didn't even blame this on Barack Obama.

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In the many baleful assessments of the 2012 Republican presidential field, the running joke for months has been “somebody has to win.” Indeed, that seems to be the main reason so many pundits are confident that Mitt Romney, a candidate the party’s rank-and-file conservative stalwarts clearly don’t like and don’t want to nominate, will ultimately win the prize.

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Over the last few decades, as a fall off in enthusiasm for newsprint, or news, or reading, has caused the ranks of professional newspaper journalists to dwindle, a vast nonprofit sector has arisen to interpret the state of the professional news media. I'm not entirely sure why it has arisen now, when there's less and less of a professional news business to interpret, but I suspect it largely has to do with finding jobs for newspaper reporters after they reach their 40th birthday.

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I kinda like Senator Scott Brown, the Republican junior senator from my home state of Massachusetts. No, I did not vote for him. But I certainly did not vote for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate anointed by the party hacks to the seat everyone called “Kennedy’s seat.” Ted Kennedy held that seat for almost half a century, and he filled it with distinction off which some members of his family poached. He actually turned himself into a brainy man, not quite an intellectual but smart about the world in which we live and keen about the culture which surrounded him.

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The shape of the 2012 Republican presidential contest has now assumed a strange, shadowy form. The original front-runner, Mitt Romney, is the front-runner again, and is rapidly consolidating elite acknowledgment as the probable nominee. But his levels of actual support among GOP voters and conservative activists seem to have barely budged. Rick Perry, the political Leviathan who threatened to put the whole contest away just a month ago, is in deep trouble, bleeding support everywhere and alienating his Tea Party base with a toxic position on immigration.

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[with contributions from Matthew O'Brien and Darius Tahir] E.J. Dionne today points out that the Republicans have no agenda to create jobs in the short term, summarizing their credo as "Don't just do something, stand there." It's the latest in a series of terrific, hard-hitting columns that he has written about the Republicans. And that's worth pondering for a moment. If you've ever seen E.J. on television or heard him on the radio, you've probably gotten the impression he is polite and reasonable to a fault. That impression is correct.

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[with contributions from Matthew O'Brien and Darius Tahir] I suppose the most memorable line from last night’s Republican debate was Michele Bachmann’s reminder that Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was actually an inversion of 6-6-6, the sign of the devil. I am almost mostly sure she was kidding. And even if not, well, she's not a serious candidate for the presidency anymore. But Mitt Romney is. And something he said has stuck with me all day long.

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