I have to spend some time unpacking Herman Cain’s description of his position on abortion because it’s a good illustration of why straight-talkin’, complicated-problem-solvin’ politicians succeed only in movies. In real life, it turns out that candidates who think they have a simple position that appeals to everyone don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.
Exhibit A is Cain’s rhetoric on abortion. When asked about the issue, he has a snappy answer: “I’m pro-life. Period.” Sometimes he gets pushed on that response — even in cases of rape or incest? “I don’t believe a woman should have an abortion, even if she is raped or is the victim of incest,” says Cain. O.K., so his position is that the government should ban abortion in all instances? Uh, no. “I don’t believe government should make that decision,” he explains. If a woman is raped, it should be “her choice” whether or not to get an abortion.
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Cain’s answers have flummoxed interviewers who are used to dealing with candidates from the political world, where pro-life means they support government restrictions on abortion and pro-choice means they think the decision to abort should largely be left up to women. But Cain is from Herman Cain world. When asked about abortion, he thinks the question is whether he believes women should have abortions. Re-read his answer above about cases of rape or incest. He’s not saying there should be no exceptions in law for cases of rape or incest. He’s saying he personally believes women who have been raped should not choose to abort.
What the rest of us know, of course, is that the abortion debate is not between those who believe abortion is a wonderful right that should be exercised as often as possible and those who believe abortion is a right but wish women wouldn’t use it. Both of those positions are pro-choice. And so is the stance that Cain describes.
Cain’s pro-choice position should come as news to the social conservatives who are sending him rocketing to the top of polls in key states like South Carolina, Florida and Iowa. But what should really trouble them is that the man doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he steers away from pizza and entrepreneurship. This is the man who has never heard of the strain of conservatism that has dictated the GOP’s foreign policy for the past decade.
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I’m with Joe. There’s nothing refreshing about a would-be President whose answers to complicated questions depend on total ignorance of the issues involved.