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Herman Cain: My interview

In July 2010, some 15 months ago, I had a chance to interview Herman Cain, who is now at or near the top of the polls of Republican presidential candidates. At the time his name was starting to be seen on lists of possible presidential candidates. Following is what I wrote at the time.

Herman Cain: Conservatives should dream, be united, informed, inspired

Herman CainHerman Cain

At this weekend’s RightOnline conference at The Venetian in Las Vegas, businessman and radio talk show host Herman Cain delivered an inspirational message to the audience of some 1,100 conservative activists from across the country.

Cain has a nightly radio show and is a frequent guest host for the Neal Boortz show, which is heard in Wichita on KNSS radio. Cain has been an executive at several companies, including serving as president of Godfather’s Pizza, a unit of Pillsbury. He appears on Fox News, and WorldNet Daily carries his weekly column.

He also runs The Hermanator PAC, which seeks to elect economically responsible conservatives to office. His name is mentioned in lists of presidential contenders for 2012, and he may launch a presidential exploratory committee.

Speaking at Saturday’s general session at RightOnline, Cain told the audience “The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goals; the tragedy lies in having no goals to reach for. It’s not a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity to have no dreams.”

Cain said that his dream is that we return to the principles that the Founding Fathers envisioned for what turned out to be the greatest country in the world: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “It didn’t say anything about a Department of Happy!” It is the pursuit of happiness that is mentioned.

Cain told the audience there are three things the audience must do: First, conservatives and their citizen movements must stay united in their efforts take back our government.

Second, conservatives must stay informed. “Stupid people are ruining this country,” he said, telling the audience that over half the people can be persuaded by a slick speech or a slick campaign ad.

Third, conservatives must stay inspired. Telling the audience the story of his recovery from cancer, he said his inspiration for his work comes from God Almighty.

He also related the story of the bumblebee, and how aerodynamic equations and computer models predict that the bumblebee should not be able to fly. “There’s only one reason the bumblebee flies: He didn’t get the memo that said he couldn’t. The bumblebee believes he can fly.”

Telling the audience that they have “bumblebee power,” he believes that conservatives can take back the government in November 2010.

Cain also mentioned what he calls the “SIN” tactics that liberals employ: First, they shift the subject, then they ignore the facts. “Liberals can’t handle the facts,” he told the audience, and that’s why they shift the subject and ignore the facts.

Finally, liberals resort to name-calling, calling himself and other conservatives racists, a charge he said is ridiculous and has backfired.

Later that day, I had an interview with Cain in his suite at Encore Las Vegas. Casually dressed and sipping a glass of wine, he was more relaxed than during his energetic speech earlier that day, although eventually his engaging enthusiasm broke out.

Referring to his optimism for the chances of conservatives in the upcoming elections, I said I’m not so sure, even pessimistic. Why am I wrong, I asked?

Cain said that callers — both to his Monday through Friday radio show and when he substitutes for Boortz and Sean Hannity — express their frustrations with the direction of the country, the stalled economy, and lack of private sector job creation. That makes him optimistic. Callers say they’ve been duped by the “hope and change” message, and they’re waking up.

Another factor he cited is the ongoing Gallup poll showing conservatives outnumbering liberals two to one, and independents and moderates outnumbering liberals one-and-a-half to one. He said this tells him that the numbers are on our side.

I asked Cain about the controversy about the Civil Rights Act of 1964: As a black man, who at age 64, growing up in the south, faced real and actual discrimination: Is our country better off for it?

“Absolutely we are,” he said, for both the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voter Rights Act of 1965, adding that they had historical impact on our country.

The Great Society programs and the rise of the modern welfare state: Are we better off for that? No, he said. He said that these programs didn’t provide enough incentives for people to help themselves. “That’s what’s wrong with most of the social programs today. That’s why they need to be modernized. When you provide incentives, and you provide help, but you also have requirements in there for people to help themselves: guess what? The programs will work.” But people have figured out how to game the system, and then the programs don’t work.

“Look at systemic poverty, look at crime, look at the quality of education in our inner cities — it’s all worse than it was.” The welfare reform of the 1990s, which required people to do certain things in order to continue to receive a check, shows that when people have an incentive to help themselves, they will use assistance programs more effectively, he said.

Since he mentioned education, I explained that in Kansas we have very few charter schools, and no school choice. What are we missing out on in Kansas? Are we behind the curve?

Yes, he said. “Competition makes everything better.” He told about the success of the Washington DC school choice program, with over 90 percent of the students going on to college. But the Democrat-led Congress and the President would not re-authorize the program. The teachers unions don’t like competition, he said, and this was the reason why.

I mentioned that often liberals are opposed to school choice because they say that poor uneducated parents are not equipped to make decisions regarding schools for their children. This is not true, Cain said. “It’s part of that whole attitude that government can make better decisions for a poor family then they can make for themselves.”

A focus of this conference is that liberty and free markets are superior in creating prosperity for everyone. But many people believe that one person becomes rich only if others become poor. I asked: Why do people believe that? Why have we as conservatives not been successful in getting out that message? Why doesn’t the president seemed to believe that?

Cain said that President Obama doesn’t believe this because he is “at least a socialist.” Republicans have not been good about managing “sharper, clearer messages about certain things.” He said and the Republican National Committee focuses on raising money, which is good, but they don’t do a good job of explaining what the Republican Party stands for. Cain said that while he supported current chairman Michael Steele for that job, he doesn’t know what Steele believes are the priorities or focal points for Republican candidates running for office in November.

While we know that we have to do something about spending, taxes, and education, these are general, broad statements, he said. We even know how to fix most problems. “We just don’t have the political will or the leadership to fix some of these problems. That’s what America faces, that’s our biggest challenge.”

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