There’s a lot for fiscally conservative Republicans to like about Herman Cain.  His 9-9-9 plan, for all its flaws (and I don’t support it, so don’t start with me), is refreshingly bold and shows a willingness to actually reform the tax code and to think outside the box.  On economic issues Herman Cain is a very strong candidate, and he can talk about those issues without putting you to sleep.  He’s an interesting guy with a compelling life story and personality.

He also happens to be black, and yes, one would have to be awfully naive not to realize that Republicans would love, love, love to nominate a black conservative for president–especially in light of the fact that the strength of our opposition to the country’s first black president is often chalked up to racism rather than the fact that Pres. Obama is the lefty-est  Democrat to ever get elected.  (Happily, he is also one of the least effective Democrats ever to be elected, so his lefty-ness has not been quite so consequential as some feared.)

So, two things–no, three things:  1)  He’s definitely a fiscal conservative.  2)  He has style.  3)  He’s black–which shouldn’t matter, but it’s too convenient and poetic to be ignored.  (Would his story be quite as compelling if he were white?  Probably almost, but it’s hard to say, since he’s not.)  These three things make conservatives pre-disposed to like him and want to defend him.  Not coincidentally, they are also three things that differentiate him from Mitt Romney (but the last one isn’t Mitt Romney’s fault).  I will just let that sentence speak for itself.

However.  When it comes to just about any issue that is not the economy, Herman Cain is kind of a disaster.  I’m not one of those people who think you have to know everything there is to know about the world before you can be elected president–that’s ridiculous–but you should demonstrate much more understanding about foreign affairs than Mr. Cain apparently has.  I don’t think there’s a single candidate on the Republican primary debate stage who couldn’t mop the floor with Herman Cain on foreign policy.  Sarah Palin could probably mop the floor with Herman Cain on foreign policy, and she hasn’t even been studying lately.  It probably goes without saying that after three years of being President of the United States, Barack Obama knows more about foreign policy than any other non-POTUS in the room–even if he makes the wrong decision half the time.  I just picked a fraction out of a hat–maybe it’s more like 33% of the time.  That’s not the point.  The point is that Herman Cain is embarrassingly weak on foreign policy (even if his instincts are sufficiently conservative), and considering that this is the area where a POTUS has the most power and influence, it doesn’t really make sense to elect an amateur who hasn’t demonstrated much interest in boning up on the stuff.

His positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are, frankly, indecipherable–which might be worse than being wrong.

Now there’s this sexual harassment thing.  I’ve thought about sexual harassment a lot recently–not because I’m being sexually harassed (although I am, constantly), but because I just read Death of American Virtue:  Clinton vs. Starr by Ken Gormley.  I could write a whole other blog post, just on that book.  Perhaps I even will (although now that I’ve said it, it reduces the chance of me actually doing it by quite a bit).  But one of many things I took away from that book was that sexual harassment cases are a real b-word.  It’s hard to document sexual harassment.  You have to rely a lot on witness testimony, and this is not witness testimony like impartial party A saw party B sexually harass party C.  This is partial party A heard from partial party C that party B did something or other, and you have to subjectively determine which party is telling the truth about something that is often highly subjective in itself in the first place.

After reading Gormley’s book, I know more about the Paula Jones case than I ever did before, and I still have no idea a) what really happened in that hotel room and b) what could possibly have motivated her to bring this case.  The motivations of the people who bankrolled her legal adventure are as crystal clear as ever, but Paula Jones herself is a mystery.  It’s entirely possible that she was telling the truth and entirely possible that she was lying through her teeth.  The same could be said for Bill Clinton.  I don’t know, I just thank God the ’90s are over.

I suppose I have always been a bit skeptical when it comes to this stuff, though.  When Clarence Thomas was going through his confirmation hearings, I was still a liberal Democrat, in the tank for the Ms. Foundation, and thus not particularly pre-disposed to like Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court–and I still found myself thinking, “Really?  We’re talking about this?  It’s her word against his.  This is crazy.”  Which may only prove that I was never a real feminist and/or that I was destined to abandon my progressive ideals, but there it is.  Or was. Anyway.  The point is that nothing has happened in the interim to make me less skeptical.  It isn’t that I think it’s pointless to make sexual harassment charges–if you’ve been sexually harassed, of course you should file a complaint–but I think a big, fat percentage, if not the vast majority, of sexual harassment cases are impossible for casual observers to render reasonable judgment on.  And I completely understand why someone would settle a suit just to make it go away.  (Would that Bill Clinton had done that very thing back in 1994.  Oh, well.  Live and learn.)  So when I hear that someone has been charged with sexual harassment, my instinct is to say, “Big deal.  What does that mean (as if someone could tell me)?”

However.  Herman Cain is handling this business so ineptly, I don’t think it much matters if the charges are true or false.  He and his campaign seem to be completely blindsided by these allegations, which seems kind of bizarre, given that there are two of the cases were settled–not evidence of guilt, but that he must have been aware such charges had been made in the past–so why wasn’t he prepared to deal with them?  I realize he’s running an “unconventional campaign,” but running an unconventional campaign doesn’t exempt you from certain laws of nature, such as “if there’s anything in your past that can be used against you in a political race, it will be.”  Unprepared for a pop quiz on the Palestinian right of return is understandable.  Unprepared for the resurrection of decade-plus-old sexual harassment charges suggests that he never expected his campaign to get as far as it has.

Apart from whether or not the sexual harassment charges are true–and at this point, I have no freaking clue–this episode tells us something significant about Herman Cain’s temperament:  he doesn’t deal well with personal attacks or surprises.  He gets defensive and flummoxed.  He could use an injection of Mitt Romney’s robotic unflappability right about now.  Which is to say…

Republican Frankenstein:  still the front runner.