Even without the scandals, Herman Cain probably was not going to be elected president. He was too much an outsider; his campaign was too long a shot, and the Republican field was too crowded.
Nonetheless, his experience has lessons both for candidates and the American public.
A man astute enough to be president should have expected his secrets to be revealed. After his 15 golden minutes of fame, Cain shouldnt have been surprised when the attacks began. Thats the nature of big-league politics in this country, and Cain cant claim that his party is innocent of making it so.
From John Edwards to Justin Bieber, famous men have long been accused of sexual misconduct; its an easy allegation to make, and it doesnt have to stick to a politician to do serious damage. There was enough truth to the rumors about Cain to make them stick. Regardless of whether the allegations were true, the sexual harassment settlements were fact, and if the women hadnt come forward, either an opponent or the press would have discovered them. Giving large amounts of money to a woman without discussing it with his wife was a decision bound to come back to haunt a candidate. Among voters, any number followed by three zeroes is a large amount.
Still, those were not unsurvivable mistakes, if Cain had handled them differently. Newt Gingrich, who has risen from the bottom of the large heap of GOP candidates despite early dysfunction in his campaign, has brazened out criticism of his marital and extramarital history. Bill Clinton, that draft-dodging, pot-smoking, skirt-chasing liberal two-term president, was impeached but not seriously hampered by his own sexual follies.
Cains problems added up, though. He managed to lose track of Libya. His 9-9-9 plan was attractive to many because of its simplicity and its promise of lower taxes, but he didnt explain it convincingly.
Instead, he responded to legitimate questions by pointing fingers at other GOP candidates, Democrats, the media, racists and conspirators. In some ways, he was right, but it wasnt the right answer. Voters dont want to hear a candidate say, Its someone elses fault that Im not the candidate you want me to be. They dont want a chief executive who paints himself as a victim. They want one who will take charge, right wrongs and fix Washington.
In the end, Herman Cain wasnt that person, and hes not the first candidate in recent months to bob to the surface and then sink back. The Republican presidential race has seemed more like speed-dating than courting or interviewing for a job. Voters quickly form attachments based on little more than first impressions, precisely because those candidates have not yet revealed their flaws. Soon, though, disenchantment begins to set in and they move on to the next new candidate. That method creates neither healthy long-term relationships nor good government.
Political consultants earn big bucks predicting what combination of factors will draw voters, because the conventional wisdom is so often wrong. Integrity and keen intellect ought to be firm prerequisites, but that has proven not to be the case. What voters say they want is not what they choose when they have options.
Its time for citizens to figure out what goes into to creating the government they need. Getting elected is one thing; being a good president is another. Its too bad the electorate cant make one follow from the other, but that means looking at candidates with a critical eye far earlier in the process. This isnt a flirtation; its the future of the country.