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Herman Cain

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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Herman Cain

Cain tests the limits of a pregnant pause

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM
  • Star Tribune
  • November 15, 2011 - 4:52 PM

It’s hard to say which is more uncomfortable to watch — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent “oops” debate moment or Herman Cain’s foreign policy flailing during a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial board.

The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, on a campaign swing through Wisconsin, stopped in for a meet-and-greet at the newspaper. It did not go well.

Unfortunately, Cain’s caught-on-video cluelessness will live on forever thanks to YouTube. That’s the last thing that a campaign stumbling after sexual harassment allegations needed.

Cain was asked a question he shouldn’t have been surprised by: where did he stand on President Obama’s handling of the Libyan crisis?

It was a timely query given Moammar Gadhafi’s recent death and America’s restrained intervention in the armed conflict that ultimately toppled one of the world’s most brutal dictators.

Cain looks like the kid in school who didn’t do his homework, gets called on by the teacher and then tries to tap dance his way out of bad situation. It’s not even a good tap dance.

The pizza magnate flounders from the get-go. “OK, Libya,’’ he says as he leans back, takes a deep breath, flutters his eyes, then leans forward to take a swig from his water bottle. That’s followed by a short contemplation of the wooden table in front of him.

You can almost see the imaginary globe spinning in his mind as he tries to figure out Libya’s location. Is it next to “Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan,’’ which is how he mocked  Uzbekistan when a previous interview revealed he didn’t know that nation’s leader?

Cain has to verify with the Wisconsin editorial board that Obama supported the uprising. He disagrees with Obama’s handling of it, though he can’t say why. He starts down one avenue to explain his position but quickly backtracks.

Cain shuffles in his chair, messes with his jacket, looks up at the ceiling and mumbles as he stalls for time.

“I gotta go back and see, uh,’’ he says, adding that he’s got a lot of stuff “twirling around in my head.”

At least he was honest about that.

The rambling discourse that follows is squirm-inducing. To his credit, Cain was able to name Gadhafi as the African country’s deposed leader, but his meandering response doesn’t convince anyone that he’s got a grasp on this important policy situation.

Even Sarah Palin did better when she fielded a question she couldn’t answer. I’ll get back to ya on that, she say perkily, sometimes with a wink.

Perry’s brain glitch was certainly cringeworthy, but no one seriously thought he didn’t know what three departments he wanted to axe. Cain’s stumble revealed a genuine and disturbing shallowness on a critical issue.

Cain is still posting solid poll numbers, though support is fading after the sexual harassment allegations. This foreign policy fumble should grease that backslide.

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Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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