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Herman Cain at Hillsdale

Thanks to the efforts of T. Elliot Gaiser, who is a regular contributor to Ricochet on the Student Feed, Herman Cain braved the blizzard now besetting south-central Michigan to speak at Hillsdale this evening, and I got a chance to hear him. The turnout was huge, the forbidding weather notwithstanding. Fortunately, I had a reserved seat – as it happens, in the front row.

I have attended such events on occasion in the past. Back in the last millennium, one summer when I was briefly a reporter for the now-defunct Oklahoma Journal in Oklahoma City, I actually heard George Wallace speak. The tone of that event was worrisome. Some antiwar undergraduates staged a walk-out in the middle of his speech, and the audience went berserk with fury.

The Cain event had an entirely different tone. The man could not be more genial, and the audience was in a good mood. He told us that this was not the first time that he had spoken at Hillsdale; he added that it would not be the last time; and everyone cheered. Cain has a deep, resonant, warm voice that is easy to listen to, and he delivered a stump speech with a foreign policy focus, explaining what he had in mind when he amended Ronald Reagan’s theme – “Peace through Strength” – by making it “Peace through Strength and Clarity.” He touched on the nation’s Founding principles with some frequency. He discussed the degree to which military strength is dependent on economic and moral strength. He pointed to the dearth of American warships on the high seas – fewer than at any time since 1915, he said.

Towards the end, he spoke of his time at Morehouse College, of the lectures given by its President, and he recited a Negro spiritual mentioned in one of those lectures. He concluded with a discussion of what his parents had taught him: Believe in God, believe in yourself, and believe in this country despite its challenges.

The speech was long on abstractions and short on specifics. Cain has a great deal of experience giving inspirational speeches both as a businessman and as a Baptist preacher. He profited from that experience. Before the speech, I was of the opinion that he was not ready to be President of the United States. Afterwards, my opinion was the same.

I do not doubt, however, that he is a fine man, and my instinct is to suppose that the charges lodged against him by various women are untrue. The two who have come forward have track records suggesting that they are greedy and unreliable. The settlements given the two women who worked at the National Restaurant Association were too paltry to be suggestive of misconduct on anyone’s part. And there was every indication that Cain is the real article.

I spoke with him briefly at a reception after the event. I could not bring myself to ask him whether he would be leaving the race. The very idea seemed obscene. Someone else I know who had a more extensive conversation with him than I did told me that he was staying in. My only comment to him was that I regretted that he had not sung the spiritual he recited. He responded, “I would have, but I have to save my voice. I have three events tomorrow.”