Herman Cain and the Businessman Theory of Politics

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 15 2011 2:07 PM

Herman Cain and the Businessman Theory of Politics

Over at our sister site Foreign Policy, Dan Drezner gawks at Herman Cain's Journal-Sentinel interview (the Libya interview) with bug-eyed horror. He is inspired to stop covering Cain.

There's a mercy rule in Little League, and I'm applying it here -- unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements, there's no point in blogging about him anymore.

Hang on, thought -- Cain hasn't changed. His position when he got into the race was that advisers would be called on to guide his foreign policy. His position now is that he's not a foreign policy guy, and in a Cain White House, he'd call on his advisers to guide foreign policy. Cain was doing perfectly fine in the polls for a very long time with exactly this position. He's fading now not because of his flubs, but because a sexual harassment scandal makes voters doubt his morals. Foreign policy isn't a driving issue in 2012. The deal Cain was always making with voters was that he didn't sweat details. This is the businessman theory of politics: People who succeed at business are, naturally, prone to succeed at anything else. Give them a government to run and they'll do it better than the bureaucrat class.

It brings me back to Robert Verbruggen's April article about the problems of a Donald Trump candidacy.

Not all businessmen operate in a way that lends itself to politics, however. Many of them take huge, brash, irresponsible risks. Some finance their projects with sketchy investments, a process more akin to gambling than governing. We need such men in our economy — where would we be if countless entrepreneurs hadn’t staked their financial security on seemingly crazy ideas that worked? — but we don’t want such a man running the country.

You could add to that: Not all businessmen are curious about the way the world works aside from how it affects their businesses. That's always been the Cain way. His fade isn't going to stop some future Cain-alike from succeeding with the businessman theory, because it's a natural side-effect of a total mistrust of bureaucrats.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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