Raisin' [a Few Issues for the Purpose of Honestly Vetting Herman] Cain!
"I'm the only problem-solver in the group," Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain told Mike Huckabee in an August Fox News appearance. Well, many candidates bill themselves as problem-solvers. In fact, if we asked any candidate running for any office in the entire country, practically every one would likely define him- or herself as able to solve problems. Yet we know that politicians, as a rule, create and worsen problems rather than fix them.
The danger in electing self-proclaimed problem-solvers is that they often put too much faith in their own ability. Overconfidence turns the hopeful campaign pronouncements of otherwise successful people into dismal policy. In the end, Americans usually end up with more laws, less freedom, and no money.
The question is what type of problem-solver Cain will be as president. For example, Herbert Hoover (a genius in his own right -- a self-made man who was the wealthiest president in modern history) tried to solve problems by outsmarting the business cycle. But the painful consequences of his economic meddling showed that even the most able of Americans is no match for the complexity of the market. Or perhaps Cain will approach government like Ronald Reagan, with the recognition that the people as a whole are far more able to direct the economy than even the smartest presidential administration.
Examining Herman Cain's record leaves serious questions about which type of problem-solver he is. In a column published October 20, 2008, Cain blamed conservatives' "economic illiteracy" for their opposition to the freshly passed Trouble Assets Relief Program.
"Wake up people!" admonished Cain with typical candor. "Owning a part of the major banks in America is not a bad thing. We could make a profit while solving a problem." Cain goes on to defend Treasury's decision to post-legislatively change TARP to buy preferred stock in banks rather than toxic mortgages. "You got a problem with that?" asks Cain. Apparently he didn't.
Cain reassures "free market purists" that the Treasury's stock purchase is "not nationalization because that would require government to own at least 51% of the entity for an indefinite period of time." (This is a relief, because some of us thought that government would use this foot in the door to force mergers, control salaries, and set lending rules. Oh, wait...)
The issue isn't that one mistake disqualifies a candidate from office, but rather the rationale Cain uses to justify TARP. Is there no limit to government power so long as it's a "win-win for the tax-payer"1? Does the Executive Branch have the authority to decide what constitutes a win-win? If, as Cain concludes, "unprecedented problems require unprecedented solutions," then does that include unconstitutional solutions?
Cain's technocratic tendency shows up in other areas. When describing his 9-9-9 tax plan at the Values Voters Summit, he mentioned a bonus tax deduction for businesses who buy from American companies. The tax exception effectively creates a tariff on foreign goods, ostensibly as a stimulus for domestic jobs.
We've been told for decades that the scope and spending of government will become a problem in the "out years." Well, welcome to the out years. The 2012 election maybe our last legitimate chance at preserving the American ideal. Accordingly, we must elect a president who understands our greatness is not in our technocrats and their slick plans, but in our people and their liberty.
Now, Cain's record doesn't make him the next Herbert Hoover (or even the next Mitt Romney), but it does require some good answers from the newest member of the Republican top tier.
Joseph Ashby is a contributor to Jonah Goldberg's latest book, Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation. Joseph can be heard Thursday mornings at 7:35am CST on the KHUB Morning Show with Matt Price.
1 For the record, TARP was not a win-win for the taxpayer. It did not rescue the economy from a credit crunch or prevent a long recession. TARP apologists cite that the money was paid back in full with interest, but that claim is misleading. TARP money was not used exclusively on banks; billions were lost on car, insurance, and mortgage companies. Also, a huge portion of the money was forced upon healthy banks, which the Treasury Department knew would have no problem paying back the loan -- effectively padding Treasury's investment portfolio and making the program look more successful than it really was.