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Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): It’s a Wonderful Lives…

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my least favorite film that my favorite actor (Jimmy Stewart) made — that’s not a dig, as it’s sort of like referring to your least favorite sunset in Paris. However, I’ve probably seen it the most often due to the period in the 1980s when it was shown constantly (this phenomenon was satirized in a 1987 episode of “Cheers”).

Either as a side-effect of getting older or simply the times in which we live, I confess that the film becomes more bittersweet with each year’s inevitable viewing. Are there any George Baileys left in the modern world? Were they all ground under the iron heel of the Mr. Potters who run our corporations, our banks, and, well, our country? Yet, every year, Americans curl up with a glass of eggnog and root for George while later voting for Mr. Potter, who is quite clear in his intent to pave over Bedford Falls and erect a consumerist Pottersville-nightmare.

Oh well, Christmas is, after all, all about cognitive dissonance, so let’s just embrace it until our bleary-eyed, New Year’s hangover greets us in 2012.

If “A Christmas Carol” offers the promise of redemption, the appeal of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the notion that your life actually matters and has a demonstrably positive effect on other people. It warms even the coldly cynical part of me that believes the universe is just too big for one person’s absence or involvement to make much of a difference. And before anyone counters with Hitler, I would point out that there’s always someone next in line.

In 1996, I spent Christmas Eve in a bar just to recreate this moment.

Also, like “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” has inspired countless explorations of its themes in TV and film. I’ll be generous here and call them “homages.” The effective “It’s a Wonderful Life” formula requires a decent man pushed to the brink and a satanic figure who would run riot in the world if that good man gives up in the face of his endless struggle with him. The film is an obvious Christ allegory but with a happy ending — God intervenes and prevents George’s suicide rather than insisting it’s part of a larger plan, and the people of Bedford Falls do not abandon George in his most vulnerable moment. Yeah, maybe the Christ story is more realistic.

I thought it might be fun — if for no one but myself — to revisit a few of these “It’s a Wonderful Life” remakes in their various forms (as I plan to do with “A Christmas Carol”). The first one is from a 2008 episode of the daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” which always featured a Christmas-themed episode I found myself watching during my single days. In a way, it combines both “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful LIfe” — Michael Baldwin, unlike George Bailey, is no saint. Years ago, he was a pretty vile character who committed acts that would make Herman Cain blush. He’s since redeemed himself and, as the following clips reveal, makes the world around him a better one.

I personally doubt this will happen with Cain, but who knows? He’ll probably need the help of three spirits but those guys do good work.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Pop Life, Social Commentary

 

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How do you spell (and define) “bimbo”?…

Jon Huntsman is officially off my Christmas Card list.

Commenting on Herman Cain’s calvacade of scandals, the presidential candidate (yeah, really, he’s still in the race) told the Boston Herald that “We’ve got real issues to talk about, not the latest bimbo eruption.”

What the hell is that?

Here’s a real issue, for you, Mr. Huntsman: Why don’t we discuss the casual disregard for women you display by throwing around the word “bimbo” like you’re someone’s 90-year-old grandmother using the word “colored.” “Oh, what? They don’t like to be called that anymore? It’s so hard to keep up. I liked that Nat King Cole, though. He was a good one.”

Checking the dictionary, “bimbo” is defined as “a generalized term of disapproval especially for an attractive but vacuous person” or, more offensively, a “tramp.”

So, who are these bimbos erupting from Cain’s now practically dormant volcano?

Sorry, Jon, no bimbos there, either.

The Huffington Post kindly provided a slideshow of Cain’s accusers. First up is Karen Kraushaar, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, who “was an employee at the National Restaurant Association during the time Cain was head of the group.” OK, nothing particularly bimboic about that. The second woman remains anonymous —  The Huffington Post curiously chose to depict her using the image of what appears to be a thinly disguised Portia de Rossi — but we do know she that she also worked at the National Restaurant Association and is currently employed at a New Jersey lobbying firm. No bimbo readings there.

We know little about the third accuser, other than her having worked at the National Restaurant Association and charging Cain “with making sexually suggestive remarks and gestures, even inviting her to his corporate apartment for a private visit. She described his behavior as aggressive and inappropriate, similar to the claims made by the previous accusers.” I tend to err on “innocent until proven bimbo” so let’s move on to the fourth woman, Sharon Bialek, a professional woman and mother, who was the first to make a public statement and whose treatment by Cain’s camp and the conservative media arguably initiated the trickle-down creepiness that led Ginger White to come forward this week.

It’s possible Huntsman was confused by the smear job the Cain people put out on these women, which attempted to paint them as modern-day Evelyn Nesbits. Maybe he was just referring to Ginger White, the only one of the party of five to state that a consensual sexual relationship took place, rather than sexual harassment and sexual assault. It might be a little judgmental to call an Atlanta businesswoman a “bimbo” just because she had an extramarital affair, but I’m sure that’s the same pejorative used for Congressmen who troll for women on the Internet or who dress up in tiger suits when not fooling around with the teenage daughter of campaign donors. What? No? Well, that’s peculiar.

Huntsman is not even capable of original insults. “Bimbo eruption” dates back to the 1992 presidential campaign when political consultant Betsey Wright used it to describe the inconvenient women with whom Bill Clinton most likely had sex. I’m sure Ms. Wright is awfully proud of the mark she’s made in history and for women’s rights.

Sorry, Jon, I tried to find these “bimbos” for you but no luck. If it’s any consolation, I do know where to find a big jerk.

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Political Theatre, Social Commentary

 

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The “Anyone But Romney” Sweepstakes…

The “Anyone But Romney” Sweepstakes…

If Herman Cain’s presidential campaign collapses under the weight of multiple sex scandals — similar to the effect of piling topping after topping on a thin crust pizza, it appears that Newt Gingrich is the likely beneficiary in the “Anyone But Romney” sweepstakes.

It must be hard for Romney. He’s clearly the guy but no one is all that excited about it. Democrats are afraid he might win, and even Republicans are afraid he might win. There’s a collective resignation about his inevitability. He’s the Greg Kinnear/Bill Pullman character in the romantic comedy, and the GOP is Meg Ryan, desperately waiting for Tom Hanks to show up and sweep her off her feet.

Alas,politics is just as disappointing as romance in the real world — your Tom Hanks turns out to be Rick Perry, who has grand plans of turning Congress into a part-time job (which, logically, would ensure that only the wealthy could afford to do it) but that plan is stymied by his not seeming to understand what the legal voting age is.

But even Tom Hanks made “Joe Versus the Volcano.” Let’s toss Perry into one and move onto the next possibility — Herman Cain. Sure, he’s less Hanks and more Denzel Washington but he’s still not Romney.

Mr. Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, does not follow any of the traditional rules of presidential politics. He has no political experience. His campaign has raised almost no money and as a result has virtually no staff or infrastructure. And Mr. Cain appears to make few of the tactical calculations that drive most presidential campaigns.

OK, he doesn’t look that good on paper, but you know who does look good on paper? Romney, and we don’t like him. This is simple deductive reasoning. So, Cain’s an unconventional candidate — what could go wrong?

Hmmm, so on reflection, Cain might be less Denzel Washington and more George Jefferson.

This brings us to Newt Gingrich. I don’t blame you if you’re confused. The non-Romney front runners in the GOP race are harder to keep track of than the current best friend of a teenage girl.

Gingrich might seem an implausible choice — no “yesterday’s news” candidate has successfully claimed the White House since Richard Nixon in1968. Although his opponents in the primary have positioned themselves as outsiders to the Washington establishment, Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House. His primary business experience, which is Cain and Romney’s selling point, is receiving $30,000 per hour from Freddie Mac for advice (that sounds like a lot but Freddie Mac paid Ann Landers $50,000 an hour for advice regarding the least offensive way of turning down your mother-in-law’s yam bread). Gingrich is also not a particularly fresh candidate: If elected, he’ll turn 70 during his first year in office, which means he’ll only have time to remarry twice at most before he retires.

However, GOP primary voters might be weary of the “Snow White” remake the race has turned into with Dopey, Crazy, Horny, and Doc. Gingrich has no surprises. He’s already had his sex scandal, which is important to get out of the way early — like chicken pox. We also know how the Democrats would receive a Gingrich presidency, based on how they lamented his departure in 1998:

“We are mourning the loss of having Newt to kick around anymore,” said one White House adviser who did not want to be named. “Newt Gingrich literally was the best thing the Democratic Party has had going for it since 1994. . . . If anything, there’s total depression on my side of the fence.”

Yes, the GOP is settling. It’s a great ploy — one Kinnear or Pullman should have tried in those movies. Safe Guy No. 2 comes in and grabs Ryan away from Safe Guy No. 1 before dreamboat shows up. Could Gingrich, who left D.C. in disgrace more than a decade ago — banished to his high-paying private sector Elba, return to the White House in triumph? Of course not. What, are you high? It’s totally going to be Romney, as Nate Silver, who has a brain in his head, correctly points out:

This year, however, a candidate like Mitt Romney would have more time to regroup after an early setback. I’m not just picking Mr. Romney’s name out of a hat. It seems that the candidate who could benefit the most is one who had stronger “fundamentals,” like fund-raising, campaign infrastructure and institutional support, which could potentially outlast transient swings in polling. That describes Mr. Romney better than it does someone like Mr. Gingrich, who does not perform well in these areas.

So, the guy everyone suspects is a secret Democrat (arguably a step-up from secret Muslim socialist) wins the nomination and perhaps selects a Vice Presidential candidate who appeals to the base. If he repeats the McCain Mishap of someone like Sarah Palin, he’s toast. If he selects a charismatic empty suit like John Kerry did with John Edwards, he’s burnt toast. He could look to Ronald Reagan, who chose George H. W. Bush as his running mate in 1980 partly because of Bush’s international experience and ability to appeal to the political center. That center doesn’t really exist anymore, so Romney would need to flip the scenario and select someone with D.C. experience and who appeals to the party’s base, which brings us back to Gingrich.

I guess I’ll go dust off my mid-90s Gingrich material. Some of that stuff was gold.

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Does it matter if she’s black or white?…

Does it matter if she’s black or white?…

When the first sexual harassment accusations against Herman Cain emerged, there was some quiet discussion of whether the women were “white, black, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin'” (oh, sorry, I’m listening to Prince’s “Uptown” as I write this). Cain had maintained solid popularity among Tea Party conservatives and this was a potential acid test. Would his more conservative followers still support him if he’d violated a centuries-old taboo?

Then Sharon Bialek came forward and put a very visible blonde face to the matter. This was in a weird way a watershed moment: If Bialek had accused Cain of similar acts back during the early ’60s when he was busy watching “Dobie Gillis” rather than actually participating in the Civil Rights Movement, it could have cost him his life in a very literal, decidely non-high-tech lynching. There’d be no question of his accuser’s background, as Bialek experienced today. However, thanks to healthy does of liberal activism from the likes of people Cain’s strongest supporters mostly detest (Martin Luther King, Jr, Thurgood Marshall, and so on), Cain was spared The Scottsboro Boys treatment and was free to paint Bialek as a broke-ass tool of the liberal elite, which I guess is also sort of The Scottsboro Boys treatment. Oh well, the score now stands at Black Conservative Men (I’m including Clarence Thomas in this calculation): 2, Women: 0. I can see one, lone tear running down Gloria Steinem’s cheek.

Yesterday, Ginger White (an almost Faulkneran name — kind of like Goodhue Coldfield) sought to shock the Black Conservatives at home and prevent a threepeat. She stated that she’d been involved in a 13-year-long affair with Cain, which did not simply involve meeting to play checkers in his hotel room.

She says… he would fly her to cities where he was speaking and he lavished her with gifts. She says they often stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead and dined at The Four Seasons restaurant. She says he never harassed her, never treated her poorly, and was the same man you see on the campaign trail.

This is also somewhat impressive if true: Cain openly courting a white businesswoman in the ritzier sections of Atlanta. That’s a far different Atlanta than the one I remember growing up during the 1980s, but perhaps my memory is a tad exaggerated.

Wait, though, this is assuming White is actually, you know… white. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but while we’re all here talking, her complexion is sort of similar to an aunt of mine. She’s got the Halle Berry haircut from 2003. All I’m saying is that a convincing case could be made.

Obviously, it doesn’t matter. Michael Jackson settled this issue definitively in 1991 — if you’re non-threatening and well-connected enough, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.

 

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Herman Cain’s Triple Threat…

Herman Cain’s Triple Threat…

I’d mentioned before that it wasn’t a wise (and certainly not honorable) move on Herman Cain’s part to personally attack the women who claimed he had sexually harassed them. It would have been far more presidential to just deny the allegations rather than point out how one of the accusers had an overdue library book in 1977 or the other danced too close to a boy during a Richard Marx song at the junior high spring formal.

If Ginger White’s revelation of a 13-year affair with Cain proves his undoing, he’ll have no one to blame but his own bullying and intimidation tactics.

White (said) that she was a reluctant accuser who decided to go public only after her name was circulated among reporters. But she also said she was upset by Cain’s responses to the sexual harassment allegations from two women who have been identified publicly.

“It bothered me that they were being demonized, sort of, or were being treated as if they were automatically lying and the burden of proof is on them,” White said…

“I wanted to come out and give my side before it was thrown out there and made to be something, you know, filthy, which some people will look at this and say, that’s exactly what it is…”

I’m not sure how her preemptively coming forward benefits her, but it certainly doesn’t help Cain. The Atlanta businesswoman claims their relationship began in the late 1990s when Cain met her at a National Restaurant Association presentation. That group is proving more dangerous for women than the National Rifle Association. I never even heard of it prior to these allegations against Cain, so I’m not convinced it’s not just a dummy organization Cain invented to meet women and keep his wife off the trail.

So far, Cain’s been accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and now an apparently consensual adulterous relationship. If true, Cain is a triple-threat of bad behavior — sort of like J. Lo but just low. Andrew Sullivan correctly points out that the media has unfortunately blurred the three — treating them all as one amorphously salacious allegation. There’s even the standard unveiling of the new accuser’s past. The following is from Fox 5 Atlanta:

Before our interview, we checked into Ginger White’s background. We found she filed a sexual harassment claim against an employer in 2001. That case was settled.

We also found a bankruptcy filing nearly 23 years ago in Kentucky, and a number of eviction notices here in DeKalb County over the past six years. The most recent happened this month.

We also found a lawsuit filed by a former business partner, Kimberly Vay, who once sought a “stalking temporary protective order” against Ms. White for “repeated e-mails/texts threatening lawsuit and defamation of character.” The case was dismissed; but was followed by a libel lawsuit against Ms. White. A judge entered an order in favor of Kimberly Vay because Ms. White failed to respond to the lawsuit.

I don’t agree with picking apart the background of women coming forward with sexual harassment claims — rather than, you know, investigating the actual merit of the claims themselves — because it seems to me to reward bad actors who pick their victims well (“Impoverished and unstable? Check and double check!”). Employers would certainly have access to such information if they wanted. It gives them the perfect alibi of “see, she’s crazy!”

It also makes no sense whatsoever in Ginger White’s case. She’s the only one of the women who is actually confessing to bad behavior. Does anyone seriously expect a squeaky clean history from a woman who knowingly engaged in a 13-year affair with a married man? “Ahh, Ms. White, so you were a nun for a few years in the ’60s. Did a lot of flying, I see.”

Now, it looks like Cain is “reassessing his campaign.” Yesterday, he claimed he was remaining in the race “as long as he has the support of his wife.” If he does wind up dropping out, this would prove an unfortunate (though perhaps still accurate) statement to have made. I’d also be interested as to his reasoning behind exiting if it occurs. Precedent would show that he’s likely to blame the “Democrat machine” and play the martyr who is protecting his family from further false claims by those desperate to prevent a Cain presidency.

Ultimately, Cain’s silver bullet would be a sex scandal rather than sexual harassment. The latter being the only thing actually relevant to his ability to govern. I’d be happy to put a hound back in the White House if it got us the economy of the ’90s again.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Recurring Feature: Herman Cain says more things that don’t make sense…

I neglected to include this gem in my previous piece on Herman Cain’s recent GQ interview:

CAIN:… I grew up in the South during the civil rights movement. The Democrats co-opted the credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But if you go back and look at the history, a larger percentage of Republicans voted for that than did Democrats. But a Democrat president signed it, so they co-opted credit for having passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This would make sense if you ignored history — just as Godfather’s Pizza would be the best in the country if you excluded pizzas from New York, Chicago, and California. Oh, and Domino’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, and DiGiorno.

From the actual Congressional vote:

Of the 420 members who voted, 290 supported the civil rights bill and 130 opposed it. Republicans favored the bill 138 to 34; Democrats supported it 152-96. It is interesting to note that Democrats from northern states voted overwhelmingly for the bill, 141 to 4, while Democrats from southern states voted overwhelmingly against the bill, 92 to 11.

It is also disingenuous for Cain to compare the Republicans of the 1960s to the Tea-Party-co-opted far-right group of today. The Rockefeller Republicans are no more. Much of this was due to Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 1968 — “efforts to use race as a wedge issue — on matters such as desegregation and busing — to appeal to white southern voters,” for which then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman actually apologized.

“By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out,” Mehlman says in his prepared text. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”

To borrow from the Godfather of Soul, the Godfather of Pizza insists on “talking loud and saying nothing.”

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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It’s Official: Herman Cain Is a Jerk…

Presidential candidate Herman Cain apparently confused GQ with Maxim given his comments in a recent interview with the men’s magazine.

Chris Heath: What can you tell about a man by the type of pizza that he likes?

Herman Cain: [repeats the question aloud, then pauses for a long moment] The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is.

Chris Heath: Why is that?

Herman Cain: Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance. [laughs]

Devin Gordon: Is that purely a meat question?

Herman Cain: A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.

According to Cain, a manly man also hasn’t had a bowel movement since 1978. I might not question the motives of someone else who used the word “sissy” in the 21st Century but I’m less inclined to do so in Cain’s case, given his statements on gays.

(By the way, this Piers Morgan interview with Cain makes me smile wider than Marilyn in “Bus Stop.”)

Chris Heath: Why do you think that most black Americans traditionally vote Democrat?

Herman Cain: The reason is because many of them are discouraged to even consider an idea or a candidate that’s not Democrat. They are brainwashed to not consider an alternative idea if they perceive you as a Republican.

Chris Heath: Who’s doing the brainwashing?

Herman Cain: The Democrats.

If Democrats are capable of brainwashing on this scale, then how did they lose the House in 2010? Why haven’t they conquered Poland? Is Cain’s plan to woo the black vote to state that we are feeble-minded buffoons who Democrats have manipulated for almost 50 years? That makes as much sense as selecting “Move Bitch (Get Out the Way)” as your wedding song.

Could Cain consider for a moment that Republican policies — not just on civil rights but on social programs that would disproportionately impact minorities — might play some factor in the party’s inability to effectively reach black voters? Or perhaps blacks don’t enjoy ads like this:

Or this:

Once done insulting blacks, Cain stated that if fellow candidate Michele Bachmann was an ice-cream flavor, she’d be “tutti-frutti.” Classy.

Devin Gordon: Do you think that there is a greater tendency among the Muslim faith for … extremism?

Herman Cain: That would be a judgment call that I’m probably not qualified to make, because I can’t speak on behalf of the entire Muslim community. I have talked with Muslims that are peaceful Muslims. And I have had one very well known Muslim voice say to me directly that a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.

Chris Heath: A majority?

Herman Cain: Yes, a majority.

Devin Gordon: Do you think he’s right?

Herman Cain: Yes, because that’s his community. That’s his community. I can’t tell you his name, but he is a very prominent voice in the Muslim community, and he said that.

Chris Heath: I just find that hard to believe.

Herman Cain: I find it hard to believe.

Chris Heath: But you’re believing it?

Herman Cain: Yes, because of the respect that I have for this individual. Because when he told me this, he said he wouldn’t want to be quoted or identified as having said that.

Alan Richman: Are you talking about the Muslim community in America? Or the world?

Herman Cain: America. America.

This is the sort of thing that makes me wish Rachel Maddow was right and the Cain campaign is just a “performance art project.”

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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