Home > Uncategorized > What Herman Cain’s Candidacy Says About the Tea Party

What Herman Cain’s Candidacy Says About the Tea Party

While we are still waiting to see what ultimately happens with the Herman Cain presidential campaign, it is interesting to look at his campaign and what it says about the Tea Party. First off, the Tea Party is not a monolithic movement, so it isn’t possible to talk about the movement as if it is one, united group of like minded individuals. However, there are recent trends, including significant support of Herman Cain for president which, taken together can give us an idea of what the Tea Party is and where it could be headed.

The Tea Party arose out of public dissatisfaction with the fiscal irresponsibility of the federal government and disgust with the government bailouts of GM, Chrysler, the Too Big to Fail (TBTF) banks, etc. The movement declared itself to be non-partisan. Over time, the Tea Party has evolved. This evolution has largely been away from non-partisanship and away from narrow issues of fiscal responsibility.

Over time, the Tea Party has taken on a more religious tone. For example, our local Tea Party group has the following mission statement:

“Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with Fiscal Responsibility, Founding Principles, and Constitutionally Limited Government under God.”

Certainly, on the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the mission statement. However, there is much more information on religion in our local Tea Party, and the Tea Party generally, than there appears in the mission statement. There is an emphasis on finding moral leaders, almost on a Biblical type of leadership. Again, I would certainly love to have a smart, knowledgeable, capable, experienced and extremely moral leader. The reality is, however, that – at least if you believe what the Bible says – we are all fallen sinners. We are only saved by the grace of God. There is nothing we can do on our own to save ourselves or make ourselves worthy of salvation.

Furthermore, judging morality and interpreting it in light of the teachings of the Bible, religious institutions, etcetera can be extremely difficult. We all make judgements on a daily basis. Life requires that we do so. It is infinitely more difficult to accurately assess whether or not someone is a good, trustworthy or moral person. We do our best to make those assessments. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.

I attended the first meeting where the local Tea Party attempted to revitalize itself. It was marked by a few things – first, there was a Republican candidate for Congress invited as a speaker. Second, we spent a large amount of time debating the roots of the founding of our country – whether this country was founded as a Christian nation. Those who were in any way uncomfortable with that idea were essentially told that they were wrong. Now, I can see the debate from either point of view. But, my practical question is, if the Founders intended that we be governed by Biblical Law, why didn’t they institute this clearly in the Constitution? The obvious answer is that was not their clear intent. They drew on many historical examples and princliples to design the government. It was not their intent to design a theocratic form of government or one in which there was a state religion.

I wrote about the seeming contradiction between the Tea Party’s fiscal responsibility roots and its current emphasis on religion here:

http://terrykinder.posterous.com/can-god-balance-the-us-budget

The issue of partisanship within the Tea Party has been with it for some time. Within our local Tea Party, it is apparent that there aren’t a whole lot of people who lean Democratic. Most people are conservative, Republican, and perhaps, a sprinkling of libertarians – but I doubt many would feel too comfortable or welcome within our local group.

In light of the whole non-partisan claims of the Tea Party, our local group had a Republican presidential straw poll with the following results:

* Cain 35%
* Romney 15%
* Gingrich 15%
* Perry 15%
* Paul 13%

So, like much of the Tea Party, our local group had a large plurality supporting Cain. Reasons ranged from his being a political outsider, to his business experience, to the perception that he was a moral man.

I wrote about the mistaken notion that the problems of government can be solved by electing a CEO here:

http://terrykinder.posterous.com/should-us-government-be-run-like-a-business

It seems as though, demonstrated by the Cain phenomena, that there is a tendency to support charismatic candidates, viewed as outsiders by the Tea Party. There is the perception that an outsider is not tainted and won’t be easily corrupted. The irony is that Cain is far from being an outsider or average American. He was the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and the Chair of an advisory board to the Federal Reserve.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2011/10/herman_cain_s_fed_years_what_did_he_actually_do_.html

This is not average experience. Being part of an advisory committee to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is not like being a member of the local school board. While Herman Cain may have risen from more humble beginnings, he is by no means today a common man. It is ironic today that while announcing the suspension of his presidential campaign he attacked the political elites. Well, from where I sit, he certainly seems elite to me. I have met a few economists from the FED, but no one there is seeking out my advice, although I do give it out freely, frequently and uninvited.

It seems there is a good possibility that the Tea Party will stray farther and farther from its original roots. The criticisms of the movement being co-opted by the Republican party don’s seem far off the mark. Mass movement are ripe for a charismatic leader to take them over and lead them astray. It is clear to me, at least, that Cain took advantage of the Tea Party to advance his agenda, political career, book tour, etc.

As a side note, I find curious the Tea Party’s criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement. While it may well be faced with difficulties maintaining its momentum and remaining true to its original intent, as the Tea Party has, OWS has many points in common with the original Tea Party. It opposes bank bailouts, is disgusted that politicians have been co-opted by special interests, and seeks to return power to the people. That being said, OWS and the Tea Party may not ultimately move in the right direction. For me, it would make sense for them to work on common parts of their agenda, but not everyone agrees.

In the final analysis, the Cain campaign demonstrates many of the weaknesses and contradictions inherent within the Tea party:

* Support of charismatic but inexperienced, ill-prepared leaders
* Tendency to be easily deceived by candidates who talk a good line, but are merely opportunists
* Movement away from demand for fiscal responsibility emphasis and toward religious tone, seeking narrowly defined moral leadership
* Transformation from non-partisan movement to partisan focused movement

The suspension of the Cain campaign leaves the Tea Party once again without a titular head or leader. It is in essence a leaderless, and too often rudderless movement. Yes, there are effective Tea Party organizations, but in general the movement lacks direction. The Tea Party bought the story and notion that Cain could take his business experience, outsider status, and personal morality and translate it into a successful run for the White House. Instead, his lack of experience and lack of dedication to mount a serious campaign saw his meteoric rise and fall. He is a true Tea Party candidate. Undoubtedly, there are a few candidates, backed by the Tea Party that won’t disappoint, but Cain is not one of them. Until the Tea Party returns to its roots demanding fiscal responsibility, there will be more Cains and more disappointment.

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