Thursday, March 29, 2012

I understand Herman Cain’s Appeal, but are his Story and Policies Relevant?

Herman Cain Comes to UNC

To stray away from politics and inspire – then subtly influence – bright yet impressionable college students, Herman Cain narrated his personal history of triumph. His father worked 3 jobs and managed to save enough money to purchase a house. Herman Cain graduated from college, met his modest income goals, moved up the corporate ladder, now owns a bus with his face on it despite racism and he ran for president. Even though he didn’t stand a chance as a viable candidate for president, his personal story and ambitious upbringing are supposed to vouch for his policy ideas.

His Story versus Modern Politics
Unfortunately modern realities have complicated the American Dream of class and income mobility. In fact it’s harder for an individual of lower socioeconomic status to achieve social and economic mobility now than in the 1970s. Research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths. He boasted that his father worked three jobs. Imagine if the entire American population within the lower income bracket attempted to get three jobs. First you have to wonder if there were enough jobs for everyone. Then they would somehow need to quality for three jobs since employers are demanding more qualifications. If you actually got hired at three jobs you would need appropriate transportation. However the lack of funds of purchase a car or even gas to travel across several jobs would be a major barrier. If they overcome the transportation barrier, then they are at the mercy of the exploitative job market where they have to deal with the frequent schedule changes. Since low-skilled employees are now viewed as expendable, it’s difficult to negotiate your hours which make holding second job difficult and a third job nearly impossible.

Herman Cain and many older college graduates brag that they worked full-time through college which enabled them to graduate without financially crippling loans. However they forget that now tuition, room & board, textbooks and the other extraneous costs of college are rising faster than household income. It’s significantly above what the average college student's income can generate, especially since you need specialized skills to gain access to higher paid jobs. Unfortunately Republicans are eager to cut Pell Grants, making the possibility of paying off college while still enrolled even dimmer. He also forgot to mention how increasingly competitive getting admitted into a college has become. Many students are trapped in poor K-12 education systems and are surrounded by a negative attitude towards academics. The lack of a knowledgeable and ambitious support system is also a major hindrance to knowing how to escape poverty. It’s extremely admirable that he was raised in a two-parent home; unfortunately many lower income kids don’t have this privilege.

Moving up the corporate ladder is becoming difficult as more and more college graduates get trapped in dead end jobs. Even his attitude towards women’s rights appear a bit antiquated and nostalgic. He made special emphasis on the fact that if a man was to purchase a house without a woman’s permission “you’ll be living in the sucka all by yourself,” [ in reference to his father surprising the family with their own house] almost implying that a strong woman’s presence is a hindrance to a man’s progress. I guess that’s why his wife continues to tend to the home while he engages in manly activities such as business, politics and campaigns. "Throughout our life together, she has been primarily the person who has taken care of the home because I moved around a lot.” Cain’s declaration “restore the American dream” is a scapegoat that enabled him to side step outlining actual solutions and to avoid identifying key issues that could delegitimize his campaign. He needs to acknowledge and define the struggles of his fellow America in order to develop relevant policy solutions.

His Simple Solutions & Complex Emotion Baiting
Americans are facing a number of complex cultural and structural problems therefore simple solutions are not adequate. For example, the energy debates are raises a myriad of concerns. If you support energy independence questions that could arise are, What if another oil spill occurs isn't the damage so costly that the profits and ease of mind becomes diminished for Americans? and Is green energy worth the cost and effort? If you are against energy independence, then the concern is, Could America could be indirectly funding terrorist groups. Or the concern is, If the dependence on foreign countries for oil indirectly draining the economy  because America has to intervene in their affairs through wars. To declare a resounding no to either stance without a thoughtful process is dangerous.

To make up for the lack of analysis and depth, Herman Cain used intense emotional appeals – which is actually growing more widely used in politics. For example, to take a strong stance against Obamacare (another simple solution to complex health care problems), he told a personal story about his battle with cancer and how the government would had denied his claims for treatment since he only had a 30% chance of living. However his simplistic story didn’t mention that fact that private insurers also deny the claims of average Americans for certain types of treatments when their survival rate is low. When he was asked about people who didn’t have health insurance, he delicately side stepped the concern. His simplistic views about discrimination are appealing to conservatives. His simplistic yet well-crafted and branded 999 tax plan that is offered as his only defined strategy to “restore the American Dream” can’t solve wars, alleviate rising health care costs, create jobs, lower the price of gas, etc. However I’m sure that it’s mainly to appease his target demographics and he just uses his story to shuffle everyone else along even though it’s not in our best interest to support the tax plan.

Naïve college students are easily to manipulate. If you impress them with a story, a bus with your face on it, make them laugh, be inspirational and entertaining then you have a formula for campaigning success. Greg Steele, chairman of the College Republicans, said Cain was a good speaker because of his various experiences. “Mr. Cain appeals to such a wide array of people and has a fascinating story that is a true testament to the American dream." Due to the lack of life experience, some college students lack the insight to see through a politician’s ulterior motives, which leads to blind voting. However many college students are also very savvy. I overheard one student comment on Cain’s lack of discussion about his political and policy ideas. Cain just wants to imply, I’m a hardworking, with a humble & relatable background and an overall good guy. Therefore you can trust my policy solutions; I don’t have to explain them in detail. Whenever Herman Cain states rhetoric such as “Don’t let someone tell you America can’t be fixed, the great strength of this nation is America’s ability to change when it has to” he's really saying I even lifted Godfather’s Pizza out of bankruptcy when the corporate office was convinced that it couldn't recover. He supposedly embodies success and overcoming hardship therefore he claims that can help get America on the right track.

On a Positive Note
I don’t want to diminish his struggle but instead add a more realistic perspective. I am still impressed by his achievements and the mental fortitude of his family. Perhaps Americans can use that same work ethic and ambition together to achieve our dream of recovery by devising and utilizing the appropriate policy solutions. The take away message that Cain offers is to create your dreams so that you will know when you get there and to stay “informed, involved and inspired.”
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