CULT OF DUMB: Harlequins seize Herman’s ad!


Part 2—By any distraction necessary: Did Herman Cain ever misbehave toward female employees?

Like you, we have no idea.

Will Cain by harmed by such accusations? We were struck by the way this question played out on The Two Cables last night.

On blue cable, one pundit seemed quite sure that the accusations had Dumb Stupid Cain on the ropes. On red cable, Cain was interviewed by Greta van Susteren—and we saw a quite different dynamic.

Rachel Maddow has little idea how red-state conservative voters think. Indeed, she has made a cable fetish out of such glorious ignorance. Last night, she announced, with self-assurance, that the accusations had pretty much killed Cain’s chances to win the GOP nod.

To our eye, it was easy to see how Cain’s interview with van Susteren might strengthen support of his side of the aisle—though we, like you, have no way of knowing what will actually happen.

One thing is certain. Within the culture of dumbness which drives our post-journalistic discourse, these accusations provide quite a thrill to the nation's pundits. They also provide the ultimate boon—a sexy-time distraction from all those conventional “issues.” Within the culture of post-journalism, the actors hired to pose as analysts adore such moments. They love them more than all others.

These actors spend their days and their nights searching for ways to avoid such discussions. Just look what happened when they grabbed hold of Cain’s “smoking ad” last week.

In truth, the smoking ad isn’t exactly an ad; it’s more an on-line campaign video. But the pundit world seized upon it like wandering souls who stumbled into a desert oasis. Cool clear water! In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni fell upon the springs. He took deep lusty gulps:
BRUNI (10/30/11): Being surprised by something nutty from Herman Cain's presidential campaign is like balking at an autopsy in a "CSI" episode: certain things go with the territory. Still, you had to pause and peel your jaw off the ground after watching an Internet ad for Cain that prompted considerable conversation last week.

In it Cain's chief of staff, who comes across mostly as an untidy salt-and-pepper mustache with a rumpled politico attached, delivers the needless reminder that Cain has "run a campaign like nobody's ever seen." To prove the point he glowers meaningfully at the camera while sucking manfully on a cigarette. Alligators as border-patrol agents and nicotine for all: that's the Cain agenda. The candidate appears in close-up at the end of the commercial, flashing a grin that's two parts demented to one part demonic. Were there a thought bubble attached, it would say, "In my wildest dreams I never thought you people would actually buy this pizza."
Being surprised by something like this from a Bruni column is like doing a double-take when Lady Collins cites Mitt Romney’s roof-strapped dog. But then, the various actors stood in line to gape at Herman’s ad last week. One day earlier, the Washington Post’s new silliest girl had played the outrage card too. Click here, then click again:
PETRI (10/29/11): Herman Cain: The joke’s on us

For Halloween this year, I'd like to go as something mildly terrifying. All the 9-9-9 suits were taken, so I'm thinking of going as What Will Happen If Nobody Acknowledges That We Are Joking About Herman Cain.

I know a joke candidate when I see one. And Cain is the Sanjaya of the GOP circuit.

I'm not saying this because he has a mustache. I'm not saying this because he appears, from nearly all accounts by anyone who has been to a key state, to have no campaign apparatus at all. I am not even saying this because he appears to be using his campaign funds to buy himself a thoroughly modern book tour.

I say this because of his popularity. I say this because of his ads.


Another hallmark of the joke candidacy is terrible ads, ads that no one in his, her or its right mind would think were remotely effective. Have you seen Cain's ads?

In his most recent ad, his mustachioed campaign manager explains that he supports Herman Cain. Then he blows smoke into the camera. Then Herman Cain smiles slowly and creepily and the ad is over. This is the sort of thing you expect to see late at night on Cartoon Network. Rick Perry's not ready for prime time? Herman Cain's not ready for afternoon cable.
Petri is 1.3 years out of Harvard. But she has mastered the bubble-headed, post-journo technique of seizing on every earthly distraction. But then, the next day, in the same Washington Post, Kathleen Parker started with Herman’s ad too.

Parker had a different hook. She thought Herman’s “ad” was effective. “Wildly successful,” she said:
PARKER (10/30/11): More than blowing smoke

Herman Cain's craggy-faced chief of staff, Mark Block, took a drag off a cigarette, blew smoke at the camera and sent the political class into coughing fits.

Theories about what Block intended have run the gamut from James Carville's "He was drunk," to amateurish campaigning, to post-modern genius. Me? I'm leaning toward accidental brilliance.

For those who missed it, and who therefore probably are not reading this, the ad is a 56-second clip of Block talking about his commitment to his candidate, not unusual in a chief of staff. He ends by taking the famous drag.

Did he just blow smoke in your face? Kind of, but he's not just blowing smoke. He's saying: "Don't like me smoking? Tough."

Odder than Block's Marlboro-mannish toke was a final frame showing a tight shot of Cain looking at the camera with a "Here's looking at you" expression that morphs into a beaming smile held somewhat longer than most people can manage without a twitch of self-consciousness. One nanosecond longer, and you expect the smile to transform into something else. Hysterical laughter? Maniacal cackling?

The message in Cain's strangely funny and wildly successful, viral campaign ad may not have had a target in mind other than to steal the news cycle from Rick Perry's flat-tax plan, which it did. But it hit a bull's-eye right in the heart of a large demographic—older, bluer-collared voters who happen to be smokers, many of whom also resent the nanny state. What's 50 million smokers times a $20 donation?
Did this “campaign ad” really “hit a bull's-eye right in the heart of a large demographic?” Is the campaign ad “wildly successful?” Obviously, Parker has no way of knowing such things. But these silly people are hired to pimp as much silly shit as they can—and the silly shit in Herman’s ad was widely advanced last week.

Other columnists wasted their time with pointless shit about Herman’s ad too. But you had to go to cable to find the real clowns involved in the most advanced clowning.

Along with Josh Marshall, we would say that Jonathan Capehart is the most changed person in Pundit World over the past ten years. At present, he serves as Lawrence O’Donnell’s top clown, a role he would once have eschewed. Last Tuesday night, he gaped at that “ad”—and at another of Cain’s on-line ads which O’Donnell had just played:
O’DONNELL (10/25/11): Joining me now, Jonathan Capehart, MSNBC analyst and opinion writer for the Washington Post. Thanks for joining me tonight, Jon.

CAPEHART: Oh my God, Lawrence! How are you?

O’DONNELL: Jonathan, when it gets wicked weird, I call you in from the bullpen because I’m speechless. Please. Three minutes, go! What did we just see?

CAPEHART: OK. So Lawrence, last night when I was here to talk about—I think we were talking about Rick Perry—I had already seen the smoking ad with Mark Block, the first commercial that you showed. And I couldn’t believe that it was real and was communicating with other people trying to figure out if it was real.

Now this afternoon, I see this new ad that you showed. I didn’t think that was real. Couldn’t possibly be real. It’s so bad that no one who we would even imagine running for president would even associate themselves with something so horrendous.

And yet we find out that not only is Herman Cain attached to this monstrosity of a campaign ad, but it has been out since August and we are just seeing it now. Say what you will about Sarah Palin and whether she was running or not running, but if you go to her site and you see any of the ads that she did, that’s probably the only presidential thing she’s actually ever done are those ads, highly produced, very credible.
Palin’s ad were “highly produced.” Inside Capehart’s tiny brain, this made them “presidential.”

Capehart continued to shriek and wail, obediently entertaining the nation for his three minutes upon the stage. But note the sheer stupidity here, the devotion to uber-distraction. As Capehart somehow managed to note, the second “ad” O’Donnell played has been on-line since August! But no one had paid it a lick of attention; in all that time, it had had no apparent effect on any known person in the whole nation. Now, O’Donnell’s crack staff had searched it out, giving Capehart a second excuse to go on the air and say, “Oh my God!” But so it goes as the actors of the post-journalistic “press corps” pretend to bring you the news.

They're very well paid for this work.

The dumbness of our journalistic culture has long been its defining trait. The shrieking dumbness of the Capeharts, the Brunis, the Petris, the Parkers has long since swallowed the journalistic world which went before it, imperfect as that world was. These horrible, low-IQ souls had made a joke of your journalistic culture by the time of Campaign 2000. In the years which came before that, it was of course Gennifer Flowers.

Lovingly, O’Donnell played some of the Flowers tapes last night, lovingly stroking a key appendage as he so lovingly did.

The cult of dumb is all around you. People are getting rich on its wares—and the liberal world keeps refusing to name it. In the grip of this cult of dumb, what happens when your “intellectual leaders” attempt to deal with a serious issue?

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a front-page scam about the Social Security program. Tomorrow, we’ll show you how badly things went when the smartest players in your failing tribe tried to address it.

A final obvious question: What did Maureen Dowd say about that troubling Herman Cain ad?

On Sunday, the New York Times published an accurate statement. “Maureen Dowd is off,” the newspaper finally said.


  1. Clowning about the Herman Cain Train is unavoidable. Charles Pierce is doing it best, of course, passing on the daily dose of silly, but you have to have some sympathy for the regular writers. Their normal job is to take serius stuff & make it trivial, but Cain has preempted them by being much, much sillier than they can aspire to.

  2. Perhaps the Cain team is trying to pre-empt SNL by producing an ad that is already a parody, frustrating any attempt by Seth Meyers to mock it.
    Perhaps Cain wants his ad ready for the Super Bowl.
    Most likely, he wants it to go viral on YouTube, giving him international coverage for free.

  3. Les filles Huntsman did a good parody ad of this parody ad.