I figure everyone's seen this by now, but just in case, here's Herman Cain's big moment from a couple of days ago. The first minute contains a sublime combination of discomfort and comedy that's almost British in its sensibilities.
Cain's blank stare is about as an embarrassing a gaffe as I can imagine. It's not a slip 'o the tongue "Oops, did I say Italy? I meant Libya" type misstep. Nor is it the sort of brainlock that derailed Rick Perry a week ago. Instead, the clip above shows Cain obviously and shamelessly not knowing even the most basic facts about the biggest foreign policy developments of the last year. Frankly, he just looks dim. I would make fun of school friends for not knowing this, nevermind the current Republican presidential frontrunner! And Cain is not some wacky Tea Party fringe candidate (or, well, he is, but not exclusively that). We're talking about a man whose bid to become the country's next commander-in-chief has been endorsed and supported by a large number of otherwise respectable Republicans.
I guess we should stop being surprised at some point -- this is the party that gave us Sarah Palin as a national figure -- but it does boggle the mind how many ignoramuses the GOP has managed to elevate to national prominence. Why does this keep happening?
You might just say "well, that's just politics," but I don't buy it. I'm basically satisfied with most of the leading lights of the Democratic Party, and whatever their limitations and lapses, I trust that they're intelligent and committed enough to learn at least the broad contours of major issues. Can a well-educated Republican really say the same for most of the GOP presidential field?
While I think aspects of right-wing thought do celebrate ignorance -- again, this is the party of Sarah Palin -- a lot of the problem seems more recent than structural. Certainly, no presidential contest in my lifetime has been as much of a clown show as this primary season. You have to assume it's because the right's Obama-oriented politics of the last three years have opened up an opportunity for journeymen GOP message men. From the outside, it certainly appears that the primary criterion of Republican approval of any given public figure is whether or not that person has criticized the president from a staunchly conservative perspective. Unfortunately, "having criticized Obama" doesn't really correlate with "having done anything else of note," so we end up with a field of goofy mismatched primary contestants with no demonstrable interest in policy.
EDIT: One additional thing. I'm trying to think if we saw a similar trend among Democrats during the Bush years -- after all, Bush was hated by the left nearly as much as the right hates Obama. And I'm just not seeing it. While the Democrats celebrated some figures largely for their animosity towards Bush, nobody seriously considered running, say, Michael Moore for president. The most anti-Bush individual to achieve political prominence was Howard Dean, but Dean was also a very qualified politician who has spent the last eight years proving his talent as a policy advocate and political operator. The current GOP field seems flimsy in a way that simply isn't comparable to the Democrats' recent offerings.