Anyone who is surprised by the high poll numbers candidates like Donald Trump got or the seeming superficiality of the Herman Cain campaign has not been paying attention to American cultural trends and opinions.
Let me explain.
We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrity to the point that the reasons for said celebrity don’t really matter anymore. One of my first PR jobs was as a publicist at RCA Victor. When I was there I saw that people viewed ALL famous people as the same. The president is the same as Lady Gaga who is the same the Pope (in terms of celebrity). It’s the same reason people like Snooky and Kim Kardasian are celebrities and why people commit very public crimes — we all want our 15 minutes. Don’t believe me about the crime part? That’s why it is illegal in Canada and the UK to report the same way.
What does this have to do with the likes of Donald Trump and Herman Cain? Because we have reduced the role of president to that of reality or pop star, some now think that if they just get enough name recognition they can get to be president. I worry that this may be true because while it may win an election (it won Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura governorships in California and Minnesota respectively), but it doesn’t make anyone qualified for anything. And it certainly doesn’t qualify anyone to take on the very difficult task of leading the free world.
Cain’s campaign is setting a troubling precedent. He has no real campaign infrastructure and that’s bad for him. He has no real policy team and that’s bad for the rest of us. He is treating this campaign, at least thus far, as it is a big popularity contest. And the criticisms of his policies are not just coming from the left (to his credit, President Obama has yet to address the Herman Cain issue, this would only elevate Cain and bring down Obama). Conservative activist Grover Norquist has said Cain’s “9,9,9” plan is about ‘as good for the economy and eating a tapeworm to lose weight is healthy.” You can see this here.
Cain’s policy problems don’t end at the US shoreline. He has flaunted his lack of foreign policy knowledge saying, “And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say you know, I don’t know. Do you know?” Check it out here.
This raises a second problem, which also starts with us. Ignorance of things not in US has become a virtue and this development is timed very poorly. As our world shrinks, we become more and more connected to other countries. Not knowing the president of one country is not a huge deal, there are a lot. Being proud of that fact is. In my opinion, the correct answer to that would be, “I am afraid I do not know but I can promise I will find out.”
My real point in all of this is that we lament the choices we are given in politics and the rancor and gridlock but neglect to take any responsibility for it. We have a representative democracy that is suppost to be reflective of us. We need to remember that and be more careful when choosing whom we elect.