Posted by on December 01, 2011 in Blog

Hardly a week goes by without another embarrassing gaffe by some Republican presidential candidate, and Herman Cain deserves credit for the frequency of these amusing mishaps. A few weeks ago, Cain demonstrated all too clearly that he didn’t know the basics of the world around him when he suggested that China was a threat because they “indicated that they're trying to develop nuclear capability.” Yes, a regional superpower and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council which has long openly been a nuclear state has “indicated that they’re trying to develop” capabilities they’ve had for decades.  This is undoubtedly worthy of mocking, but it would be unfair to Cain to pretend that he’s the only painfully ignorant character in the GOP field.

Consider the fact that, a couple of days ago, Rick Perry encouraged those in his New Hampshire audience who will be above “21” by election time to support his bid for the nomination. Is it really not common knowledge that 18 is the legal age for voting and just about everything else in our country short of alcohol consumption and a couple of other things?

Or consider Michele Bachmann’s declaration yesterday that if she were president, “we wouldn’t have an American embassy in Iran.” What a brilliant idea, except the U.S. has not had an embassy in Iran for over 3 decades.

But Michele Bachmann doesn’t have to know much about Iran any more than Cain has to know much about China. The discourse is in such a terrible state that a vast portion of the GOP field has found it sufficient to compete over who’s going to be the most hostile to our “enemies” in contrast to an allegedly wimpy Obama. The same is true with the rise of Islamophobia on the right: it doesn’t matter that the alleged threat of “Sharia Law” is imaginary and contrived, so long as it provides an excuse to sound tough and uncompromising against some foreign-sounding thing.

But this demagoguery is not without its costs. Our politics are already so partisan we can hardly get anything done in Washington. Does the stoking of the fires of bigotry increase or decrease our divisions as a people? And what are the consequences for the world, in terms of human and economic costs, of a military confrontation with Iran? We don’t necessarily need people who are smarter than Bachmann, Cain, and Perry (though that would certainly be nice), what we need are candidates who are more serious about dealing with the world’s complexity and less eager to employ the worst kind of demagoguery in the pursuit of their personal political ambitions. It is our very political culture that needs a serious shakeup.