In Herman Cain’s Writings, a Startling Lack of Foresight

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Chip Litherland / The New York Times

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida on Sept. 23, 2011.

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain isn’t just a former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and head of the National Restaurant Association. He is also a prolific writer, who produces a weekly opinion column syndicated by the North Star Writers Group.

The columns have ranged from heavy economic pontification to colorful treatises on topics like why Tiger Woods should run for President in 2016. But a common thread running through much of his writing is a startlingly poor power of foresight – and not just about Woods, whose “character, discipline and leadership” Cain lauded in 2006.

In at least one column, Cain seemed to condemn a proposal that is now a pillar of his highly touted 9-9-9 tax plan. On November 12, 2010, Cain wrote a column about rumors that Democrats would propose a consumption tax called a VAT. “The worst idea is a proposed national sales tax,” Cain wrote. A 9% national sales tax is now one of Cain’s three nines.

The problem, Cain argued in 2010, is that similar national sales taxes have “eventually gone up or expanded” in other countries. This argument echoes current conservative critics of 9-9-9, including Americans For Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, who claim that enacting a national consumption tax would make the government more vulnerable to revenue-hungry bureaucrats.

At the conclusion of the column, Cain did endorse eviscerating the current tax code and replacing it with a flat tax, which is consistent with what he wants to do now with 9-9-9. “Mr. Cain has been a proponent of the Fair Tax and Flat Tax over the past 15 years,” says Cain campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon, who denies that there’s any contradiction between 9-9-9 and the 2010 column. “To take something out of context in a 600-word commentary, out of over 500 columns published over 15 years, frankly does not make sense.”

Nonetheless, with Cain surging in the polls, his rivals for the Republican nomination may seek to use his past statements against him. And tax policy was not the only area where Cain may have misjudged the future. Throughout 2008, Cain repeatedly wrote that the creeping economic downturn was an invention of the mainstream media.

The recession officially began in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But in a Jan. 21, 2008, column entitled, “Recession? Spare us the National Economic Pity Party,” Cain compared fear of a downturn to a Hollywood script, and stated there was only an “economic correction, not an economic recession.” The damage would be minimal, Cain predicted, and would help downsize “overbuilt” portions of the economy while only “some consumers who have spent too much” would feel the pain.

He took a similar tack in a March 3, 2008, piece. “The media’s factually unsubstantiated claims of an impending recession have been going on for over a year now,” he wrote. “Many news journalists hurt people’s outlook about the economy with inappropriate comparisons and sensationalism.”

In April 2008, Cain admitted that the economy was skidding, but only, he argued, because Democrats and the mainstream media had spooked everybody with its negativity. “This writer believes that a major portion of the job losses are due to media pessimism, and employers who have swallowed the negative outlook and have hesitated to fill existing jobs or new positions” Cain wrote on April 7.

By summer, Cain was claiming that the looming financial crisis was a similar media fabrication. In a July 21, 2008, column, Cain referred to Wall Street’s troubles as “the mainstream media’s it’s-not-a-crisis-but-we-are-going-to-make-it-look-like-one banking crisis”. In less than two months, Lehman Brothers would declare Bankruptcy and, a few weeks later, Congress would pass a massive bailout to rescue the nation’s largest banks.

And even in September, Cain was upbraiding Democrats for ignoring great economic news. “We still have not had a recession since 2001,” Cain wrote early that month. “But don’t tell the Democrats and the mainstream media. You might disrupt their imaginary recession.”

Cain, who has never held elected office, is now running for President on his signature 9-9-9 tax plan and CEO economic know-how. And though he’s never cast a vote in Congress, there’s still a substantial paper trail for his rivals to follow if they want to impede his ascent in the polls . It’s right there in his columns.

Clarification: This article originally stated that Cain’s columns are published by WorldNetDaily. While they appear on WorldNetDaily’s site, among others, they are syndicated by North Star Writers Group.