Last May, Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain did something virtually no politician would even consider: On national television, he admitted he had been asked a question on an issue about which he feels passionate but also knew nothing about. His response was to do his homework and then come back to give the country a real response.
The subject: The Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.
The first time Mr. Cain ever heard the term was as a guest on Fox News Sunday hosted by Chris Wallace. When Mr. Wallace asked about the Palestinians’ “right of return,” Mr. Cain froze and then sufficiently recovered to piece together a reply that fooled no one. He clearly had no idea what the phrase meant or what it implied.
He told Mr. Wallace that the “right of return” had to be “negotiated.”
“But do you think the Palestinian refugees, the people who were kicked out of the land in 1948, should be able or should have any right to return to Israeli land?” Mr. Wallace asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Cain phumphered, “but not under Palestinian conditions.”
The Real Answer
The next evening, Mr. Cain was back on Fox News, this time on the Sean Hannity program, and he was there for a reason: to let viewers know he had been stumped, had gone home to do some research, and was back with a more cogent response.
When Mr. Hannity told him that “a lot of people think you didn’t understand the ‘right of return,’” Mr. Cain replied coolly, “They are exactly right.”
He then went onto explain what he had since learned about the issue.
“It wasn’t that the Palestinians were kicked out of Israel by the Jews. No. Their Arab leaders asked them to leave because they thought they were going to annihilate [the Jews] and then pick up what was left. So, yes, I still stick by my answer. It is the responsibility and the decision to be made by Israel,” he said.
He was certain his take on the “right of return” matched that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“That’s not something that he wants to give in on. And I would agree with him,” said Mr. Cain.
When Mr. Hannity asked him if he now understands Israel’s borders in terms of the UN partition plan and the wars of 1948, 1967, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mr. Cain said, “It is not the President’s responsibility or authority to dictate to Israel where those borders ought to be. That’s Israel’s decision.”
In explaining his prior gaffe, he told Mr. Hannity, “The thing you’re going to learn about Herman Cain, if he doesn’t know something, he’s not going to try and fake it or give an answer that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
The part of the interview with Mr. Wallace that Mr. Cain did not apologize for was his contention that when Mr. Obama insisted that Israel accept the 1967 lines as its borders in a two-state solution with the Palestinians, the President was essentially throwing Israel “under the bus.”
In a prepared statement issued after his appearance on the program with Mr. Wallace, Mr. Cain identified himself as “a vocal and unwavering supporter of our friend and ally, Israel.”
“All Israeli governments have rejected the ‘right’ of large numbers of Arabs or Palestinians to return to what is now the state of Israel. Such an en masse return would unbalance Israel’s demographic makeup as the world’s sole Jewish state,” he wrote.
It is from this perspective, he wrote, that the question about the “right of return” should be asked.
“If that is a decision that Israel wants to make, certainly,” he said, stressing that it would have to be “Israel’s call.”
“Israel has a long record of being more gracious to its enemies than its enemies are to it, and this would be yet another example of that. But is the ‘right of return’ a moral imperative? Is it something Israel must grant? Is it something the US ought to encourage? The answer is no on every count,” he said.
Friend and Ally
He insisted US policy on Palestinian affairs “must be wholly a function of our policy on Israeli affairs.”
Israel, he said, is a friend and ally who shares common values and interests with us, “especially in the eradication of terrorism and the need for bringing peace to the region.”
“As President, I will never lose sight of these basic facts,” he said. “Any aspirant to the Presidency must have the unshakeable US-Israeli alliance at the core of his or her strategic vision in the Middle East. As your President, I would,” he said.
Sources close to Mr. Cain say the entire episode was a good example of what the country could expect from a Cain Presidency. “It’s how he was raised,” said the source, a friend of Mr.Cain’s who asked for anonymity.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1945, and raised in Georgia, Mr. Cain grew up with his mother, Lenora, a cleaning woman, and his father, Luther Cain, Jr, a chauffeur who grew up on a farm.
Mr. Cain said his father gave him “a sense of pride.”
“He was the best damn chauffeur. He knew it, and everybody else knew it,” he said.
The friend said his parents were G-d-fearing people who told their son never to see himself as a victim, but, rather, to engage with hard work and perseverance “to fulfill the American dream.”
He is still a member of the Antioch Baptist Church in Atlanta, which he joined at the age of ten. He has been married for 43 years to his wife, Gloria, and they have two children and three grandchildren.
In 1967, he graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in mathematics and received a Master’s in computer science from Purdue in 1971, while working full-time in ballistics for the US Department of the Navy. As a civilian ballistics analyst, he was responsible for developing fire-control systems for ships and fighter planes.
After completing his master’s degree, he left the government for the private sector, working for Coca-Cola in Atlanta as a business analyst. In 1977, he moved to Minneapolis to join Pillsbury, soon becoming director of analysis in its restaurant and foods group.
Ultimately, he was given the reins of Burger King which was, at the time, a Pillsbury subsidiary, and he managed 400 stores in the Philadelphia area. Under Mr. Cain’s leadership, in three years, the region went from the least to the most profitable for Burger King.
This prompted Pillsbury to appoint him president and CEO of another subsidiary, Godfather’s Pizza. Aiming to cut costs, Mr. Cain reduced the company from 911 stores to 420 in a 14-month period, making the chain profitable.
In a leveraged buyout in 1988, Mr. Cain and a group of investors bought Godfather’s from Pillsbury. Mr. Cain continued as CEO until 1996, when he resigned to become CEO of the 380,000-member National Restaurant Association, a trade group and lobby organization.
He also became a member of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and served as its chairman until 1996, when he resigned to become active in national politics. He served on the board of directors for Hallmark, Whirlpool, Nabisco, Reader’s Digest, and AGCO corporations.
He serves as a commentator for Fox Business, writes a syndicated op-ed column, and, until Feb 2011, hosted the Herman Cain Show on Atlanta talk radio station WSB. In 2009, he founded “Hermanator’s Intelligent Thinker Movement,” aimed at organizing 100,000 activists in every congressional district in the US in support of a strong national defense, the Fair Tax, tax cuts, energy independence, capping government spending, and restructuring Social Security.
While many people credit the fictional couple, “Harry and Louise,” for killing the 1993-1994 healthcare plan devised by President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton, some insiders say the plan was actually demolished by Mr. Cain when he transformed the debate by asking Mr. Clinton what he was supposed to say to the workers he would have to lay off because of the cost of the “employer mandate.”
Mr. Clinton responded that there would be “plenty of subsidies for small businessmen,” but Mr. Cain did not buy it. “Quite honestly, your calculation is inaccurate. In the competitive marketplace, it simply doesn’t work that way,” he told the President.
Joshua Green of The Atlantic called Mr. Cain’s exchange with Mr. Clinton an “auspicious debut on the national political stage,” and former Housing Secretary and Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, the late Jack Kemp, was so impressed with Mr. Cain’s performance that he flew to Nebraska to meet him. Mr. Cain credits Mr. Kemp for piquing his interest in politics.
But Mr. Cain is also no stranger to struggles. In 2006, he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and liver. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and has been declared cancer-free for five years.
The kerfuffle over the “right of return” was not Mr. Cain’s last controversy on the campaign trail. During some interviews, he voiced his concern about accepting Muslims into his cabinet. When questioned on this point, he clarified that while he would appoint a qualified Muslim, he was well aware that “you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us.”
“And so when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that were trying to kill us,” he said.
He went on to say that he does not support Sharia law in American courts and that all people who would work in his administration would be evaluated based on personal interviews, “to get a sense of their loyalty to the Constitution.”
Not long after, at a private event with supporters in Bethesda, MD, he spoke frankly about his opposition to a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, TN. He explained that a Tennessee attorney representing opponents of the mosque told him that the controversial project is being supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, a violent, intolerant group that has endorsed Islamist violence.
Mr. Cain said Americans should be able to ban mosques from their communities if they so choose.
Further, said Mr. Cain, he considers Islam not merely a religion, but also a political system that does not recognize separation of church and state.
His remarks prompted political activist Pamela Geller, who blogs on Atlas Shrugged, to exclaim, “Herman Cain gets it.”
“He will be slammed by the leftist/Islamist machine as they continue to enforce Islamic blasphemy laws, bulldoze the American people, and bulldoze individual rights. Any Republican candidate that hopes to win the nomination had better have the guts and political courage to speak to the greatest threat facing our nation, foreign and domestic,” she said.
Not an Apology
A few weeks later, Mr. Cain issued words of regret that were not quite an apology. He stood by his past remarks about Islam and Sharia law, but he apologized to the Muslims whom he may have offended.
“While I stand by my opposition to the interference of Sharia law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” he said. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the US Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.”
He made his remarks after meeting with Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the ADAMS Center, a Northern Virginia mosque complex that recently hosted deputy National Security advisor Denis McDonough. Mr. Cain said he found common ground with the Muslims with whom he met.
“As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues,” Mr. Cain said. “In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists.”
Although he did not say it at the time, he made clear a few weeks later that he would not tolerate Muslims—or anyone else—in his administration who did not have a passion to protect and promote the right of Jews to live throughout the Jewish state of Israel.
At the end of August, he visited Israel with his friends Jerry and Deborah Strober of Manhattan. Among the more meaningful stops was a five-hour visit to the Samarian community of Ariel and a meeting with its mayor Ron Nachman.
“Before we left Ariel, Herman looked at Ron Nachman and said: ‘When I’m President, the first visit my Ambassador to Israel will make will be to Ariel,’” said Mr. Strober.
The “Cain Doctrine”
Mr. Strober said the meaning of Mr. Cain’s words were lost on no one. “He was making it clear that, as opposed to current policy, in a Cain administration, there will be support for the communities of Judea and Samaria, and, of course, Jerusalem,” said Mr. Strober.
Asked how Mr. Cain would manage to alter the Arabist inclination, culture, and policies of the State Department to be able to appoint such an ambassador, Mr. Strober said, “No one knows more about cleaning house than Herman Cain. As President, he will look at each agency and decide who he wants and who will have to go. The person he selects to be his ambassador to Israel will be someone whose positions reflect his own and will make going to Ariel a priority.”
In Israel, Mr. Cain said he was gratified to hear from several officials that Israel expects no military assistance from US soldiers. “All Israelis told me: ‘Israel will defend itself,’” he said.
Shortly after returning from Israel and fresh from his upset victory in the Florida straw poll, Mr. Cain announced that, if elected, the “Cain Doctrine” would be US policy on matters relating to the Jewish state: “If you mess with Israel, you are messing with the United States of America,” he said.
Visiting New York
His fresh, unvarnished approach attracted many different groups to meetings with Mr. Cain during the first week of October when the candidate was in the city on a whirlwind fundraising and informational tour.
On Tuesday, Oct 4, he had a scheduled meeting with the Jewish community that had been arranged by Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel at the Touro College Division of Graduate Studies in lower Manhattan.
Although it was supposed to be a face-to-face meeting, the candidate had a true New York experience: severe traffic that kept him from getting there.
Instead of disappointing the 50 or so Jewish leaders and media who had come to see him, Mr. Cain addressed the group through an improvised cell phone and microphone hook-up, and the meeting went on as arranged.
Confident that the group was well-aware of his pro-Israel position, Mr. Cain spent most of his time detailing his plan to boost the economy. His “9-9-9” plan, he said, is “a matter of national security.”
The first item on his agenda, he said, is to discard the current tax code entirely, since it is far too broken to fix..
He would eliminate the taxes on capital gains, estates, and payroll and replace them with a 9% flat business, a 9% personal tax, and a 9% percent national sales tax.
This, he said, would get the business community back into a growth mode and reduce uncertainty, which is always important for commerce.
Then, he would change the current defense approach from cost-cutting to investment, allowing the country to meet challenges and potential threats worldwide.
He would extend President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength” to “peace through strength with clarity.”
Asked about how he would deal with Iran, he said he would make use of the tremendous number of Aegis-class ballistic-missile naval destroyers in the US arsenal in concert with land-based missile capability, and advocate their strategic deployment, a tactic that would serve as both a warning to and countervailing measure against Iran.
In fact, he said, he would urge the enhancement of US vessels’ capacity to match the effectiveness of land-based defenses.
This is important, he said, because he believes Iran is no more than a year or two away from full nuclear-delivery capability.
He supports a strategy of energy independence for the US, which would entail full development of the country’s oil, natural gas, and nuclear power capability. Mr. Cain said that this would put pressure on Iran and allow the US to be independent of other oil-exporting nations in the Middle East.
At the meeting, Mr. Cain was asked how his administration would respond to the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian Naval intelligence analyst who was convicted in 1987 of passing classified information to Israel and is serving a life sentence.
Mr. Cain said he disagreed with Vice-President Joe Biden, who recently told Florida rabbis that he personally directed the President not to grant Mr. Pollard clemency.
Mr. Cain said that as a supporter of Israel himself, he is sympathetic to Mr. Pollard, but would have to review the entire case before making a judgment.
He had a much more ready answer for a health-care provider in the group who asked Mr. Cain what he thought of President Barack Obama’s health-care plan. Mr. Cain said he would immediately repeal it.
Mort Klein, president of the ZOA, asked Mr. Cain about the $600 million in aid the US gives annually to the PA. Mr. Klein asked if a Cain administration would continue to support the PA financially.
Mr. Cain told him that the PA, which is in active partnership with Hamas, does not behave as friend of the US. He said he would undertake a complete investigation, and if, as he suspects, the PA is not a friend, he would cut off all US aid to them.