Take Five (Careful What You Wish For edition)

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ONE: The Cain Scrutiny

A funny thing keeps happening on the way to the Republican nomination. Each successive frontrunner swoons in popularity as soon as the blogosphere, joined a little belatedly by the establishment media, subject him or her to more than superficial attention.

Herman Cain, the current favorite according to some polls, is now receiving that sort of scrutiny. His acolytes would have America embrace him as refreshing, unscripted, real, genuine – you know, pretty much everything Republican candidates never are – yet the longer he stands in the spotlight the more apparent it becomes that he’s a flibbertigibbet, politically naïve and uninformed on the issues, with a weakness for some of the worst ideas his party has ever proposed, which is to say some really, really, really bad ideas.

A very partial rundown follows of some of the most bare-assed preposterous things Herman Cain has said just in the past couple of weeks. My apologies in advance.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain argued that racism is not a professional barrier for African-Americans on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

His answer came in response to a question in which host Candy Crowley suggested that Cain, who grew up poor and black, had been the benefit of some luck and was superimposing his success on his entire race.

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” Cain responded. “I don’t believe racism in this country holds anybody back in a big way.”

Very inspirational, Mr. Cain. A lot of minority kids will be giddy to hear that the substandard educational “preparation” they’re receiving will actually equip them well for the dizzying amount of “opportunity” awaiting them in a world where (with “luck”) they’ll get to be governed by Republicans.

And unless he’s the one playing it, Cain decries what he calls the “race card” vehemently. Here’s Cain on October 3:

Speaking outside Trump Tower today, Herman Cain dismissed the idea that he was trying to paint Rick Perry as a racist by having called Perry “insensitive” yesterday when asked about the “[N-word]head” rock on property Perry had leased.

“All I said was the mere fact that that word was there was ‘insensitive.’” Cain responded. “That’s not playing the race card. I am not attacking Gov. Perry. Some people in the media want to attack him. I’m done with that issue!”

“I really don’t care about that word,” Cain added. “They painted over it. End of story! I accept Gov. Perry’s response on that.”

Actually, what Cain had described as “insensitive” was quite clear from his original statement of the day before, which the candidate had apparently forgotten:

“My reaction is, that’s just very insensitive,” Cain told Fox. “[There] isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word, and for him to leave it there as long as he did, before I hear that they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”

Wow! Cain’s even quicker on a turnaround than George Bush the Lesser, who said in December of 2001:

We’re going to get [bin Laden]. Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter to me.

But by the following March was saying this:

Well, as I say, we haven’t heard much from him… again, I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said.  I truly am not that concerned about him.

But Herman Cain knows when to hold ’em, and far be it from me to tell him when to fold ’em:

Back in July, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain told Fox News that the “race card is now a joke, because a lot of American people have figured it out.” It’s a sentiment he’s repeated frequently, arguing that Democrats cry racism to paper over President Obama’s faults.

Yet Cain frequently invokes race on the campaign trail, far more often than Obama did during his first campaign for the White House.

Cain seems downright obsessed with cards of all sorts:

He contended that those protesting against banks were merely jealous of wealthy Americans, or those with financially lucrative jobs, and lambasted them for playing the “victim card.”

“Part of it is jealousy,” he said. “I stand by that. And here’s why I don’t have a lot of patience with that. My parents, they never played the victim card. My parents never said, ‘We hope that the rich people lose something so we can get something.’ No, my dad’s idea was, ‘I want to work hard enough so I can buy a Cadillac – not take somebody else’s.’

There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done, as it were. Cain has also been busy building bridges to the gay community:

“How can you say that being gay is a choice?” the question came in from Twitter on [Lawrence] O’Donnell’s show. “Did you choose to be straight?”

Cain had just come off a bruising discussion with O’Donnell about whether he sat out of the civil rights movement while in college. So Cain’s answer was brusque.

“There will always be a difference of opinion,” he said. “Like I told Joy Behar, she has her opinion, I have my opinion. It’s a difference of opinion. Next question, please.”

On the brighter side, at least Cain didn’t accuse the questioner of playing the gay card, though I’ll bet he wanted to.

It wasn’t all straw-man politics this week, however. Cain got to talk about serious “policy” proposals, like his so-called “9-9-9 Plan”:

… which would slash taxes on the wealthy, drive up deficits to the worst point since World War II, and force low-income Americans to pay a massive nine times their current tax rate. In an interview this morning with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Cain even said food and clothing would not be exempt from the 9 percent national sales tax he would put in place if elected president. Indeed, he said it would be “fair” for a poor person to pay as much in sales taxes as Crowley does…

Presently, the bottom quintile of earners pays about 2 percent of their income in federal taxes. Under Cain’s plan, their taxes would increase all the way up to 18 percent.

Taxing poor people’s food is considered so beyond the pale that even the Tea Party group FreedomWorks assumed that the final version of Cain’s tax plan would exempt food from the sales tax.”

Michele Bachmann, another former frontrunner desperately seeking to rekindle some sparks under her campaign, smote the “9-9-9 Plan” in Tuesday night’s GOP debate:

I would have to say the 9-9-9 plan isn’t a jobs plan, it is a tax plan…  And one thing I would say is, when you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil’s in the details.

Get thee behind her, Herman Cain!

TWO: So a Mormon walks into a summit…

Waiting for the brouhaha in Republican ranks over the religious beliefs of not one but two of the candidates for their 2012 nomination has been a little like waiting for peak oil. It’s inevitable, but nobody knows in advance quite when it will happen.

The Values Voters Summit, a quintessentially American event in the great tradition of community pig roasts or witch trials, finally drew the issue of Mormonism out into the cold, smirking light of day:

At this weekend’s Values Voters Summit, the big issue seems to be assumed frontrunner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith — something that has plagued the former Massachusetts governor in the past but has yet to come front-and-center in the campaign for president in 2012.

On Friday, Dr. Robert Jeffress endorsed Rick Perry, saying that he preferred having a “competent Christian” like Perry over a “competent non-Christian” like Romney, and called the Mormon faith a cult.

Romney publicly criticized another summit speaker for virulent anti-Mormon remarks:

“We should remember that decency and civility are values, too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.”

The speaker who followed Romney was of course speaking of American Family Association representative Bryan Fischer, who among other things has said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may not deserve First Amendment rights…

Fellow LDS member and candidate Jon Huntsman, who wisely skipped the summit, pulled no punches in response to Jeffress:

“The fact that, you know, some moron can stand up and make a comment like that, you know, first of all, it’s outrageous,” Huntsman said on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “Second of all, the fact that we are spending so much time discussing it makes it even worse.”

On Monday, Huntsman, former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador to China, called on fellow Republican candidate Rick Perry, to cut off ties with Jeffress. The Baptist minister has been a vocal supporter of the Texas governor, in part, because of his Christian faith.

“Make an immediate and decisive break, period,” Huntsman said, referring to Perry. “This kind of talk, I think, has no home in American politics these days. You know, anyone who has associated with someone willing to make those comments ought to stand up and distance themselves in very bold language and that hasn’t been done. And Rick ought to stand up and do that.”

One of the strangest things about the Republican campaign to date has been just such unexpected eruptions of rationality from time to time. Still, I’m guessing all the “values voters” in attendance got their money’s worth ($99 per person, $50 for students!) and if they didn’t, I expect there are plenty more “values” where those came from.

THREE: “Baseball been berry, berry good for Homeland Security. Zombies, not so much.”

The same Bryan Fischer who’s wavering on First Amendment rights for LDS church members treated the “values voters” to his more confident take on another topic:

“By God’s blessing, we have not been hit by a Muslim attack since 9/11,” Fischer said. “I suggest that in part, we have Major League Baseball to thank. You remember that the week after 9/11 Major League Baseball converted the seventh inning stretch from the singing of ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ to the singing of ‘God Bless America.'”

I remember, Bryan. I objected to it then and I object to it now. It’s maudlin, silly, jingoistic, and completely inappropriate at a ballgame. Fischer disagrees, obviously:

“Now ‘God Bless America’ is not just a song, it is a prayer. When we sing that we are inviting God to bless America, to stand beside her and to guide her through the night with a light from above,” Fischer said.

“So for one brief, shining moment every night, Major League Baseball has converted our stadiums into cathedrals in which tens of thousands of ordinary Americans lift their hearts and voices as one and ask God to watch over and protect the United States,” Fischer said.

Hey, maybe Fischer’s onto something here. Picture, if you will, a cathedral where you can grab a beer and a hot dog for around 10 bucks, a cathedral where the priests spit chewing tobacco, a cathedral where you can kick back for three hours and watch the greatest game ever invented. Sounds pretty good! Well, except for that “God Bless America” part.

If a dusty old pseudo-anthem can ward off “Muslim attacks,” will it have any efficacy against zombie attacks? Fischer didn’t offer an opinion, but Brad Pitt might. Pitt, who’s also appearing at a theater near you right now in a baseball movie, is in Hungary filming World War Z, based on the epic zombie novel by Max Brooks.

The week began inauspiciously for the production:

On Monday, a SWAT team raided a Budapest warehouse holding weapons being used in Pitt’s upcoming zombie movie World War Z

Police seized 85 fully-functional weapons, most of which were automatic, military-style assault rifles. “We can confirm that weapons were confiscated at an airport,” Hajdu Janos and Zsolt Bodnar, the director and deputy director of Hungary’s Anti-Terrorism Unit, tell Us.

The problem, a source says, is that the guns came with paperwork claiming they were non-functional — but they’re actually in working order…

According to a source, Pitt, 47, isn’t to blame for the prop problem. “The movie company’s employees must have made a mistake bringing the guns in without the Anti-Terrorism Unit’s permission.”

FOUR: Joe the What, Now?

I was a tad too dismissive back in August when I mocked what then seemed to be an under-inflated trial balloon for the possible candidacy of Samuel Wurzelbacher (AKA Joe the Plumber, AKA Jack the Fishmonger, AKA Louie the Steamfitter, AKA Dwight the Calligrapher, AKA Bert the Sabermetrician) for Marcy Kaptur’s House seat. As it turns out:

The Ohio man who became a household name after questioning Barack Obama about his economic policies during the 2008 presidential campaign has filed paperwork to run for Congress.

Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher’s statement of candidacy filed with the Federal Elections Commission last week says he plans to run as a Republican in Ohio’s 9th U.S. House district. The filing means a campaign committee can raise and spend funds on Wurzelbacher’s behalf.

Which I think would be a ridiculous thing for a campaign committee to do, but I won’t assume that Wurzelbacher (AKA the Joester, AKA Joe-Man, AKA Ice-J, AKA Vodeojoe, AKA Joe D. Foster) is necessarily going to crash and burn; it’s more likely that he’ll part quite a few fools from their money before this is over. And in any case, he’s possibly a slight upgrade on the last Republican to run against Kaptur, a fellow by the name of Rich Iott, who enjoyed dressing up as a Nazi:

An election year already notable for its menagerie of extreme and unusual candidates can add another one: Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio’s 9th District, and a Tea Party favorite, who for years donned a German Waffen SS uniform and participated in Nazi re-enactments.

Iott… was involved with a group that calls itself Wiking, whose members are devoted to re-enacting the exploits of an actual Nazi division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking…. Iott’s participation in the Wiking group is not mentioned on his campaign’s website, and his name and photographs were removed from the Wiking website.

FIVE: State of Confusion

From Will Greenlee’s groovy blog Off the Beat comes a Florida true crime story about a man who – well, read this:

After a deputy asked Matthew Falkner for his identification, the Palm City man started taking out a taco.

When another deputy noted the request wasn’t for a taco, the booze-smelling Falkner shrugged and laughed and again started to take out a taco while in the driver’s seat of a pick-up at Taco Bell, according to recently released Martin County Sheriff’s records.

The records didn’t state whether Falkner was thinking outside the bun.

The early morning Oct. 1 exchange happened at a Taco Bell in Jensen Beach. A manager said a Chevrolet pick-up was in front of the drive-through lane and the driver may have fallen asleep. The manager told dispatchers the driver’s foot was on the accelerator, the engine was revving and smoke was coming from the vehicle.

Falkner admitted to having drunk “a beer” and a very special beer it must have been, since it apparently put him almost three times over the legal limit. I hope the taco didn’t have a comparably powerful effect on the poor guy.