When I initially supported Herman Cain – prior to the Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando – I didn’t think he’d win the straw poll or even the Presidency. That’s not why I supported him. I supported him because of what he represented: a political outsider who had never held public office and who could effectively – and unapologetically – articulate conservative principles at a time when the status quo in Washington needs a serious revision. On top of that he seemed to me to be a very moral person, a business leader with executive experience (he’s actually signed the front of a paycheck before), and as a black conservative, he also held hope to take the race issue off the table.
Sadly, once Herman Cain started winning, the Ruling Class stopped him.
And yes – I’m convinced (call me a conspiracy theorist if you want) that behind the scenes paid political consultants were orchestrating opposition research that is typical in high profile politics these days. Cain had never held public office – so these consultants were not going to find any “bad votes” to use against him. Instead, they had to dig into his business records and his personal life (this is still typical even if he had held public office). Perhaps they found a sexual harassment claim that had been made against him 14 years ago while he was President of the National Restaurant Association. Oddly enough, in all his decades of business experience, the only place he supposedly caused problems for women were at this Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm.
Either way, I’ll admit there’s no way we know the truth of what actually happened between Cain and any of these women – only they know the truth and perhaps one day it will be fully revealed to us one way or the other. But it’s awfully suspicious that no one in his life ever knew anything about a supposed 13-year affair or some of these more subjective sexual harassment claims until Cain took the lead in the national polls and stayed there consistently for several weeks. He was only derailed – not because of his policy proposals – but because of allegations against his character (true or not).
This entire process has left me so disillusioned about electoral politics in America today. If you care to read further, I’ll explain why.
The Politics of Personal Destruction
This is something that has been talked about for years now. But it seems it’s only getting worse. Both sides are to blame. When evaluating candidates, I believe it is fair to question their policies, ideology and even their lifestyle, when relevant. But it’s not fair to demonize anyone. After all, we are all God’s children. I tried my best to be fair when I co-authored a book about Barack Obama three years ago. My co-authors and I started the book off by saying it would be about facts. In that spirit, we included 189 footnotes – each and every one of those footnotes had website hyperlinks attached where the references we cited could be quickly located for our readers to evaluate on their own. To this day, for example, I have never questioned whether Obama’s birth certificate is real. Sure, that’s a fair question to ask, considering our Constitution requires a President to have been born here, but we found nothing supporting that claim and didn’t think it was relevant to his candidacy. Instead we focused on his character, ideology, his past voting record and his own statements.
Given my interest in politics and political ideas, many times I get friends and family asking me if I would ever consider running for public office someday. That’s when I usually laugh and say, “Sorry I couldn’t kiss babies for votes.” (Note: nothing wrong with kissing babies, just making a point here).
To some degree, I admire those who throw their hat in the ring for public office. The amount of time they spend on the campaign trail and away from their families is enormous and the personal sacrifice that they and their families go through is taxing. Yet, no matter how good of a person you are, you’re always going to have some detractors. In this day and age, those detractors can often times say very hurtful things about you – whether they are true or not. This is what keeps good people from running for elected office.
With this demonization of “the other,” a distraction forms away from the substantive solutions that candidates might offer to the challenges of governing. As Herman Cain said in an article published on the day after he suspended his campaign, “The process by which we choose our nation’s leader is ridiculous. There is little focus on policy substance and even less on candidates’ governing skills. If you’re not warding off some wild accusation, you’re explaining away a “gaffe,” which is usually the sort of slip of the tongue that anyone can make, but because some reporter heard it, it turns into a news-cycle narrative with a shelf life of six or seven days.”
Herman Cain was an unconventional candidate and whether or not you agreed with his ideas, you can’t argue that he had some bold ones. “9-9-9” wasn’t just a catch phrase but a bold solution to scrap the entire tax code and start over. It was ideas like these that spoke to the American people and elevated Mr. Cain to the top of the pack. But once you become the front runner, your opponents do everything they can – everything they can – to pull you down. They first tried attacking the ideas – and when that didn’t work, they went for the jugular and got personal. I’ll admit, the Cain campaign might have responded better at times to these attacks, but let’s face it: when you’re thrown from the back of the bus to the top of the heap – literally overnight – you may not be prepared for that, especially if “the long shot” shows that he actually has a real shot.
Candidates Will Let You Down – They’re Human
Another frustration that I have with electoral politics is the candidates themselves. If any of the allegations against Herman Cain are true, that would be a huge letdown. He would not be the person I thought he was. And the series of accusations certainly hurt him in the polls – meaning that many of the people that were supporting him or considering supporting him were letdown.
While these accusations have still not been proven – or admitted to by Mr. Cain – let’s look at another case that was a complete let down for me: Mark Sanford.
You may not know who Mark Sanford is, or you might. He was the Republican Governor of South Carolina, who would have been probably the strongest candidate for the Presidency this year. That is, until he went “hiking on the Appalachian Trail.” Governor Sanford was a staunch opponent of the bailouts – under President George W. Bush. He fought the “stimulus” program under President Obama. And he had a great record as a conservative Governor – often battling against fellow Republicans in his state legislature.
But Governor Sanford had a human side – you know that human infallibility we are all tempted by. When he told his wife and children and staff members that he was going off to hike the Appalachian Trail, he was actually taking flights to Argentina to be with another woman. When this was uncovered, it ended his marriage and his political career – not to mention any hope that I had for him to be President. He would have been the clear front runner to bring together conservatives and libertarians to defeat Barack Obama in November 2012. But it was not to be.
Candidates don’t just let us down with their personal misbehavior, but also with the issues they vote on. They tell us one thing to get elected and then, many times, do quite another in office.
I can’t blame a person for changing their views once in office or when presented with new material. But let’s face it, elected officials like Charlie Crist and Mitt Romney flip and flop all over the place on a wide variety of issues. When candidates can’t be trusted to hold firmly to the position on the issues you thought you voted for them on, it is entirely frustrating.
The Legacy Media Isn’t On Our Side
As a conservative, another frustration I have – that plays itself out ever so visibly in electoral politics – is with the legacy media. I am choosing to use this term “legacy media” instead of “left wing media” or “mainstream media,” or how Rush Limbaugh would call it, “the drive-by media.”
Books could be (and have been) written on this subject, so I’ll try not to belabor the point. By “legacy media” I could say the entrenched media, the status quo. Think about it: you’re a reporter in DC. You have access to political insiders and other media elite. You surely don’t want to lose that access, so you play the game. It’s the same thing as working at a corporation where you don’t want to “rattle the cage” or take risks you can’t afford to. Plus, you probably want to be respected by these other insiders. Preserving the status quo is in your best interest. And with the media crowd in DC, New York City, and Hollywood, that also usually means being liberal – or “progressive.”
Take for example the story that broke in the New York Post and National Enquirer in 2007 of then-Presidential candidate John Edwards. They had learned of John Edwards’ secret affair with a staffer – an affair that later proved to be true and produced a love child in the process. You can’t hide that. What made the story worse was that Edwards was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife (who has since passed away). But where was the legacy media? Not even FoxNews touched it. They have to play the game too. Of course what later made the affair even worse was that Edwards had illegally used campaign money to cover up the affair. That will get you some jail time – and it did. And this man was once very close to being Vice-President (when he ran with John Kerry in 2004) and was touted as a front runner for the Presidency in the 2008 election cycle, just behind Obama and Hillary Clinton. What else is the legacy media not reporting?
When it comes to conservatives, the legacy media is quick to attack. Compare John Edwards with Herman Cain. Compare the “gaffes” by Sarah Palin to those by Joe Biden. Anytime Palin misspeaks, it’s front page news and a parody that weekend on SNL. Biden makes gaffes of this magnitude all the time – but we just laugh it off, as good ol’ Joe. Don’t mind him, that’s just his personality.
In this year’s GOP primary, we’ve already seen the legacy media launch a series of attacks that have contributed to every front runner’s fall from grace. After Michelle Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa straw poll, no sooner was there a very unflattering picture of her on the cover of Newsweek followed by a slew of stories that she has to take medications because she gets fits of anger caused by chronic migraines. When Rick Perry got into the race and jumped to the top of the polls, all of a sudden we heard about a rock on his ranch (that was there before he bought it) with the word “Niggerhead” on it. (I’m not even sure what Niggerhead means). This was “proof” that this Texan was indeed a racist!
Where do they even find the sources of some of these stories, one wonders. So far, we’ve got a candidate on meds, a racist, and now with Cain, a womanizer. What a dysfunctional field of candidates these Republicans are, says the legacy media. Get ready, Newt. You’re next.
Politics: The Art of the Possible
So, with all this frustration in contemporary American electoral politics, where does that leave us? After all, “politics” has been studied for ages. Aristotle’s Politics was written in 350 B.C. The word “politics” is Greek in origin and literally means “the art of the polis,” or city. Politics is then, the way we organize ourselves in society, how we construct a rule of law, how we form order out of chaos. Aristotle’s student, Plato, later imagined a utopian society with his The Republic in 380 B.C.
Even Jesus Christ took a stab at political philosophy when he told his apostles to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Some believe that with that statement, the West first learned how to separate politics and religion. At the time, the Romans had their own pagan religions that were forced unto the people. Christianity was seen as a revolt against the Roman Empire. And it was.
Politics is a necessary evil. As James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But men are not angels, and so out of that develops laws and customs that takes root differently in different kinds of society. In the free societies in Western culture, we balance liberty and order, in symbiosis with our fallible nature as human beings.
Yet whether we live in the United States of America or some other free society in the West or an oligarch or dictatorship, all have something in common: decisions have to be made on how to govern. In a free society, we have an added advantage: free people have been given a voice which has often been heard out in the the free assembly of protests or through media publications. In our founder’s day, newspapers were not only places to spread ideas but also to keep government accountable. Today that continues, along with blogs, tweets, and so on.
The Insiders in the Age of New Media
As mentioned above, political and media insiders – let’s call them the Ruling Class – do their best to preserve the status quo. After all, they want to stay employed, respected, and with the “in” crowd. They also want to maintain their own power in the current structure. The problem is the current structure is changing – rapidly.
With the emergence of the internet and new media – anyone can spread news via their own publications, which are less expensive to maintain and can more easily compete with the legacy media, which is losing ground in importance and revenue. With knowledge that their power is diminishing they are fighting even harder to keep the outsiders outside. Look at the way they have treated the tea party and new media entrepreneurs such as Andrew Breitbart.
New media has been a democratizing force for sure – but it also creates chaos. Perhaps understandably those in the legacy media are trying to reimpose their authority to create order out of this chaos – of course that means they are still the ones in authority. It remains to be seen whether we the people will be able to take strategic advantage of new media resources to take the power back from the political and media insiders and how that paradigm will look once we do.
With all this being said, I have decided that I am personally done with electoral politics. I continue to be disappointed in the entire political process. Presidential politics represents perhaps the most ridiculous circus show, but we’ve seen this all play out on many levels. Whether it has been the increase in the devastating politics of personal destruction, the candidates themselves who have let me down, or the media who does not provide equal treatment to candidates, parties, and movements, it all seems to me to be a colossal waste of time.
I have also grown to realize that electoral politics is the least effective way to create a more ethical and just society. However, it is electoral politics that gets all the attention. After all, America likes a good horse race. And let’s face it, once you get into following these races, it becomes a drug. You think that somehow you are affecting history and being an agent for change. And don’t get me wrong, you are – to a degree.
But there are plenty of other (and more effective) ways to create change in society. I guess that’s why I have never gone into electoral politics professionally ever in my career. I have volunteered for campaigns from time to time and I write and tweet extensively about various electoral races. But now I have made a decision to reduce that level of interest significantly. It won’t be cold turkey overnight, but gradually I hope to get off this drug. And that’s just it. When I start thinking of politics as addictive as a drug, it means there’s probably not something very healthy about it at all.
In my work for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) from 2004 to 2007, I traveled around the country providing educational resources for college students to learn more about our nations’ founding principles and conservative principles. I had become involved with ISI as a graduate student at Maryland, when I co-founded a conservative student newspaper called The Terrapin Times. The paper wasn’t focused on politics, but on ideas and stories that were impacting the Maryland community. I had naturally gravitated from being a College Republican to being an editor of a conservative paper. When I was invited onto a student-led panel at CPAC in 2004, I told the audience that “there is a difference between being a conservative and being a Republican.” I think that was my first clue.
From ISI, I then moved on to work for The James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Tallahassee that is focused on public policy solutions for Florida. We focus on economic-based issues and first look to the free-market for solutions to our state’s challenges. As our President Bob McClure likes to say, we at JMI are not focused on the politicians, but rather on having an impact on the culture so that the politicians will naturally gravitate to our ideas.
I also serve on the board of directors of Project Veritas, founded by my close friend James O’Keefe, who was made famous in 2009 when he brought attention to ACORN, the community-organizing group that once employed President Obama. With a video camera and some maxed out credit cards, James and his associate Hanna Giles exposed ACORN’s tactics and behavior. Those videos caused a Democrat-led Congress and President Obama to sign a bill to defund ACORN. In the process James also exposed the legacy media’s first instinct: to protect ACORN and President Obama. For decades, conservatives had spent millions of dollars with hundreds of consultants to try to defund ACORN of federal funding. In the new era of new media, a recent college graduate was able to do just on virtually no budget at all.
While political and media talking heads are bantering about whether this candidate or that had a good “performance” after a debate or whether allegations against them might be true, many heroic individuals and worthy non-profit organizations (especially the ones that don’t get government funds like ACORN did) are out there making a difference. I am very proud to serve on the board of one great non-profit, Rock by the Sea, which organizes music festivals to raise money to fight pediatric brain tumors and help kids with diseases like cancer and down syndrome.
There are church groups and pregnancy centers, homeless shelters and missionaries to third world countries that aren’t interested in electoral politics and personal smears. They are interested in solving problems and facing challenges by getting their hands dirty to do so – and not in the way Mark Sanford or John Edwards got their hands dirty.
So, the more I think about it, the more I realize that electoral politics is largely ineffective in truly making a difference. No politician is ever going to be perfect. And they won’t be able to solve all the problems. Perhaps they can just make it easier for we the people to do that. If less of us put our focus on electoral politics and instead put an emphasis on actually solving problems – without the need for government to solve them for us – it would be a much better use of our time.
So, to all my friends in electoral politics, I don’t want to discourage you. There are many good reasons to stay involved. I just want to say, it’s not for everyone – and certainly not for me. While I will be ending my direct involvement in all associations that deal directly in electoral politics, I will certainly not be ending my interest or devotion to furthering the conservative principles I believe in. I will just be prioritizing my time to do that in other ways.
I will still visit with political groups and associations (even partisan ones!) when my job responsibilities call me to do so. In fact, I hope these groups will invite me and my colleagues on a more regular basis, showing their own interest in the issues and solutions rather than the politicians who perpetuate America’s Ruling Class. I also have to deal with many elected officials through my own position – and I mean no disrespect to any of them personally. As I stated earlier in this article, I greatly admire their own self-sacrifice to serve their community and their country.
I do have a few friends that are running for political office right now. I’m sure I’ll have other friends running for office in the future. And on that level – as a friend – I will continue to support and promote them. Shoot, you may even catch me hosting a fundraiser or two. But I will involve myself in the electoral process on a very limited scale (think: necessary evil).
As for the rest of the GOP primary and the much anticipated head-to-head election against Barack Obama that will surely captivate much of the country in 2012, I am pretty much bowing out to any involvement or interest. Again, I know this drug will be hard to leave. I might catch myself flipping on CNN or FoxNews in the evening or to watch a debate or two. But I am going to try to discipline myself not to get consumed anywhere close to the degree I have been. Like I said, it’s a frustrating process that has no real good end and is one of the least effective ways to create a more ethical and just society.
I was thrilled that a political outsider like Herman Cain was making headway and I was very supportive of his campaign for the White House. I would not have been as disappointed or disillusioned had he simply lost at the polls. But in my estimation he was “taken out.” Luckily for him, it wasn’t a Bobby Kennedy assassination, which a candidate that represents a disruption to the status quo always has to fear.
As I look at the rest of the GOP field, it appears – at the moment – that this is shaping up to be a Mitt Romney vs. Newt Gingrich race. (Then again, they told us it was going to be Romney-Perry race). However, neither Romney nor Gingrich do it for me.
Romney is a flip-flopping politician who does not come off as authentic. I think, if elected, he has the potential to “ruin the brand” much like many claim George W. Bush did for us. That said, I think even Bush stuck to his principles more than Romney has – or would in the White House.
Newt Gingrich seems to be more of a “movement conservative” and he can certainly speak effectively and represent the brand well. However, he carries a lot of personal baggage – including two divorces, both of which ended due to his infidelity. If a man lies to his wife, he is certainly going to lie to his constituents and to voters. In the primary, I cannot vote for him when other good men and women are running. We all make mistakes, but he’s made some big ones that only God and his former wives can forgive him for. He shouldn’t expect voters to.
So, that leaves Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Jon Hunstman, Rick Santorum, and Michelle Bachmann in the race. (And for those really paying attention, Gary Johnson). While I am much closer to Rick Santorum on the issues than perhaps anyone in the field, his candidacy has just not taken off and I’ll expect that he’ll drop out after Iowa – along with Bachmann. Huntsman’s only hope is a surprise finish in New Hampshire, but if he doesn’t come in the top two there, he’s probably going to need to find an exit door.
I like Rick Perry on most of the issues and he has an (overall) great resume as Governor of Texas. I’ve met him before and he seems like a cool guy. He’s certainly a strong advocate of the 10th Amendment, which leaves powers not delegated to the federal government, in the hands of the states or the people. However, sometimes people with a great resume don’t do well in the interview. He’s one of those candidates. He has stumbled often and I would be nervous putting up an inarticulate Texas Governor against Barack Obama – especially considering the legacy media continues to want to protect Obama and eat up Rick Perry, who will provide them with a field day. Conservatives, remember, have to be perfect and operate without flaw.
So then there is Ron Paul, who I believe, while a long shot, does have some viability. He is currently polling second in Iowa, where reports have it that he and his team are doing well in the grassroots on the ground. The question is: has he already hit his ceiling? He is actually the kind of candidate that can do well in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Do I expect Ron Paul to win? No. I didn’t expect Herman Cain to either. I don’t always get behind people because I think they can win, but because of what they represent. Ron Paul is one of those special politicians who doesn’t change once in office. His economic policies are first rate – and he’s been more right about more things than any elected official over the past three decades. Had we as a nation listen to Ron Paul and those that shared his economic policies, we wouldn’t have been in this housing and economic crisis.
Of course I don’t agree with Ron Paul on everything – especially some elements of his foreign policy. I do think he is right to say that America should not be policing the world. I like that broader idea and I think a President Paul will move us to prioritizing our national defense and bringing many of our troops (who are stationed in over 100 countries) home. A President Paul economic policy will surely help strengthen our ability to conduct foreign policy as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. An overextended nation with a large national debt cannot properly defend itself. The current Ruling Class in Washington, D.C. is not serious about solving our national debt and is perpetuating a national security crisis of epic proportions. Ron Paul’s economic policy puts us back in control of our own national security more than any other candidate.
I supported Ron Paul for a brief period in late 2007 to further his candidacy as well. I ultimately didn’t vote for him in the 2008 Presidential primary given that he didn’t have a chance to take any delegates in the Florida “winner take all” primary.
I am happy I donated to his campaign in late 2007. I believe that much of the energy from the Ron Paul campaign led to the beginnings of the tea party. I have said often that if it wasn’t for the failings of the Republican Party, the tea party would not exist. The tea party is there to remind the Republican Party of its principles and to focus both of the major political parties and the culture to come back to our nation’s founding principles and get us out of the national debt quagmire we are currently in, with no end in sight, and only doomsday ahead for our children and grandchildren.
The Ron Paul campaign may not win (though it’s got a chance), but it won’t let you down. What you sign up for is what you get. I won’t be out actively campaigning for Ron Paul or any Presidential candidate, as noted above, with my waning interest in electoral politics. But for those interested in where this former Cain supporter’s vote is ultimately going to be cast, my options are limited and I’ll be happy to vote for a very moral man with the most consistent free-market principles of perhaps any candidate that has ever run for public office, anywhere.
And with that, it’s back to policy over politics. Solutions over circus acts.