Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Herman Cain Pro-Choice, Anti-Abortion, or Just an Idiot?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But let me explain.

Some issues are very complicated with lots of detail and nuance. Other issues are much more straightforward, approaching the proverbial black or white, yes or no, up or down analysis. Abortion is one such issue. Sure, there is some degree of nuance: If abortion is illegal, should there be exceptions for rape or incest. If abortion is legal, should government pay for it. Similarly, questions arise regarding  when an abortion might be legal (i.e., first trimester only, until viability, etc.), the types of procedures to be allowed, notification and similar requirements, and what the rules are when the person seeking an abortion is a minor. But those queries are mostly just picking at the edges. The core issue is simply whether abortion should be against the law or whether a woman should have the right to get an abortion.

So let’s listen to what Herman Cain told Fox News’ John Stossel earlier this year:

CAIN: I’m pro-life from conception. Yes.

STOSSEL: Any cases where it should be legal?

CAIN: I don’t think government should make that decision. I don’t believe government should make that decision.

STOSSEL: People should be free to abort a baby?

CAIN: I support life from conception. No, people shouldn’t just be free to abort because if we don’t protect the sanctity of life from conception, we will also start to play God relative to life at the end of life.

STOSSEL: So I’m confused on what your position is.

CAIN: My position is I’m pro-life. Period.

STOSSEL: If a woman is raped she should not be allowed to end the pregnancy?

CAIN: That’s her choice. That is not government’s choice. I support life from conception.

STOSSEL: So abortion should be legal?

CAIN: No. Abortion should not be legal. I believe in the sanctity of life.

STOSSEL: I’m not getting it. I’m not understanding.

CAIN: I believe…

STOSSEL: [crosstalk] If it’s her choice that means it’s legal.

CAIN: No. I believe… I don’t believe a woman should have an abortion. Does that help to clear it up?

STOSSEL: Even if she is raped?

CAIN: Even if she is raped or if she’s the victim of incest because there are other options. We must protect the sanctity of life and I have always believed that.

STOSSEL: Alright.

So, are you clear on Cain’s position on abortion? It should not be legal but it isn’t for the government to decide. It should not be legal but whether to have an abortion should be a woman’s choice. Oh, and we should decide abortion policy because that decision will impact decisions on end-of-life care and, I suppose, euthanasia.

Well maybe David Gregory, interviewing Cain on Meet the Press can get a more clear response:

[following a brief discussion of same-sex marriage]

GREGORY: What about abortion? You want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Could you support or condone abortion under any exceptions at all?

CAIN: I believe in life from conception and I do not agree with abortion under any circumstances.

GREGORY: Exceptions for rape and incest?

CAIN: Not for rape and incest because…

GREGORY: What about life of the mother?

CAIN: Because if you look at rape and incest they … the percentage of those instances is so miniscule that there are other options. If it’s the life of the mother, that family is going to have to make that decision.

GREGORY: Would you condone abortion if the life of the mother were…

CAIN: That family is going to have to make that…

GREGORY: You won’t render a judgment on…

CAIN: That family is going to have to make that decision.

Ah, much more clear, now. No abortions, even in cases of rape or incest because “those instances are miniscule” and there are other options. I’m sure that a girl who has been raped by her father will be happy to know that she is part of a miniscule statistic and has other options. Does that baby come with an extra topping and free breadsticks? But if a woman’s life is in danger, Cain will allow the family to make the decision.

So then, Cain was interviewed by CNN’s Piers Morgan. Yes, Celebrity Apprentice America’s Got Talent, Piers Morgan. After an interesting discussion about homosexuality (Cain thinks being gay is a choice that he distinguishes from race because race doesn’t “wash off”) the subject turned to abortion:

MORGAN: Abortion. What’s your view of abortion?

CAIN: I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances and here’s why.

MORGAN: No circumstances?

CAIN: No circumstances.

MORGAN: Because of many of your fellow candidates or certainly some them qualify that.

CAIN: They qualify but…

MORGAN: Rape and incest and so on.

CAIN: Rape and incest.

MORGAN: Are you honestly saying again … tricky question I know …

CAIN: It’s a tricky question…

MORGAN: You… You’ve had children, grandchildren… If one of your female children, grandchildren was raped you would honestly want her to bring up that baby as her own?

CAIN: You’re mixing two things there Piers.


CAIN: You’re mixing two things…

MORGAN: Because that’s what it comes down to.

CAIN: No. It comes down to it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as President, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It’s down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide.I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a decision…

MORGAN: Besides expressing the view that you express you are effectively telling… You might be President. You can’t hide behind now the mask if you don’t mind me saying it of being the pizza guy. You might be President of the United States of America so your views on these things become exponentially massively more important. They’ve become a directive to the nation.

CAIN: No they don’t. I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation. The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to a social decision that they need to make.

MORGAN: That’s really interesting. That a very interesting departure from the normal politics.

CAIN: Exactly. [Note: These last two lines don’t appear in this video; they are present in other versions of the video, but I chose this version because it was easier to embed.]

Ok. Does that make it any more clear? Abortion under no circumstances, but it’s not the government’s job to tell a family what decision to make.

Realizing that he had, once again, stepped in the proverbial, “it”, Cain took to Twitter and said:

I'm 100% pro-life. End of story.

His campaign then released the following statement:

Yesterday in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, I was asked questions about abortion policy and the role of the President.

I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply “order” people to not seek an abortion.

My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey.

As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100% pro-life. End of story.

I will appoint judges who understand the original intent of the Constitution. Judges who are committed to the rule of law know that the Constitution contains no right to take the life of unborn children.

I will oppose government funding of abortion. I will veto any legislation that contains funds for Planned Parenthood. I will do everything that a President can do, consistent with his constitutional role, to advance the culture of life.

Ah, yes. The old “blame the interviewer” strategy (how’d that work out for Sarah Palin?). Now go back and re-read Morgan’s questions and Cain’s answers. Were you confused by Morgan’s question? Did you think Morgan was asking just about the “role of the President”? And, if Morgan was talking about the “President’s role”, then what was the point of Cain’s discussion about the “choice” that a family must make or the notion that it isn’t the government’s role to make that decision?

So Cain went on GOP-TV … er, sorry … Fox News again to try to further clarify his position:

MACCALLUM: … the question that that description sounds an awful lot like choice.

CAIN: It’s not, Martha. Look, let’s go back. See he was asking me two questions. My position on abortion has been the same … on pro-life has been the same throughout this campaign. And that is I am pro-life from conception and I don’t believe in abortion. When he then tried to pigeon-hole me on my granddaughter being there as as a victim of rape, then what would I do? The only point I was trying to make. A lot of families would be in that position, and they're not going to be thinking 'Well, what does the government want me to do?” My position is no abortion. My position is no abortion, but all I was trying to point out was: take the typical family in this country, and you don't know what they might do in the heat of the moment.

MACCALLUM: I understand that…

CAIN: That’s what I was trying to say.

MACCALLUM: I understand that. But here’s the issue that pro-life people are going to have with that. They’re saying that you’re presenting it as a choice, a decision that’s to be made by the family, not something that is considered murder by the laws of this country. So that’s where you draw the line. And you know Rick Santorum who we’re going to have on a little bit later has already come and said you know that for him there’s absolutely no dividing line. So we… You know there’s plenty of people out here, plenty of Catholic politicians for example, who you know…

CAIN: Right.

MACCALLUM: …Have said exactly what you just said. That when it comes down to it they’re absolutely pro-life but that they want the government to stay out of the decision, they want the family to make the ultimate decision, they’ve gotten a lot of grief for that. So you know, so that’s where the tough line is on this for you. And you’re getting a lot of backlash from a very influential radio host in Iowa on this this morning and they’re saying this is going to be problematic for you with the people in Iowa.

CAIN: Well, I’m sorry if it’s going to be problematic. Let me just state again. I am pro-life from conception. No exceptions. I was trying to separate two situations here. And if they won’t allow me to separate those two situations, they won’t allow me to separate those two situations. That’s unfortunate. I don’t know how much more I can say than I’m pro-life from conception. No exceptions. I will not fund any abortions by government. I will work to de… I will sign any legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and all of the other variations on this who pro-life issue. I was trying to make another point and if that point was missed…

MACCALLUM: I understand… [crosstalk] but I guess the question is do you believe that abortion should be legal in this country for families who want to make that decision?

CAIN: No. No. No. I do not believe abortion should be legal in this country, if that's the question.

MACCALLUM: So then, so then you're saying that if those circumstances come up and the family does make that decision, that they decide that that is the best thing for this young person or she decides that on her own, then if that were the case, you know, that's what they decided, then it would be an illegal abortion that they would need to seek.

CAIN: It would be an illegal abortion! If the law… Look, abortion should not be legal. That is clear. But if that family made a decision to break the law, that's that family’s decision. That’s all I’m trying to say.

MACCALLUM: Alright. Understood, Mr. Cain.

And to even further clarify his position, Cain gave an interview to Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody:

(Transcript taken, in part, from’s Brody File with some formatting changes; note that the CBN transcript has odd omissions from the text):

BRODY: This whole… The whole pro-life situation. What is the lesson that you are learning from all of this would you say?

CAIN: The lesson that I’m learning is that I’ve got to be careful of being pigeonholed because people can take a piece of tape and edit out the first half and only pull out one snippet that could start a firestorm. The tape that you are referring to, I said specifically, “I am pro-life, from conception, no abortions, no exceptions,” but they only focus on a later part of it where they were trying to pigeonhole me with a specific situation. So, the lesson learned is beware of being pigeonholed, because you know they can pull it, and take it out of context.

BRODY: Right. Let me ask you, cause you just mentioned out here. Do you believe that abortion should be illegal in America?

CAIN: Yes.

BRODY: Social conservatives and pro-life groups will hear that and say therefore are you for some sort of pro-life amendment to the Constitution that in essence would trump Roe v. Wade?

CAIN: Yes. Yes I feel that strongly about it. You known. If we can get the necessary support and it comes to my desk I’ll sign it. That’s all I can do. I will sign it.

… [discussion about a same-sex marriage]

BRODY: The social conservative groups, one of the things they’re telling me is that they want a president that’s going to use the bully pulpit on the life issue. It doesn’t mean you have to get bogged down on all of this, but they want to see a president if not use the word advance the legislation, at least use the bully pulpit to talk to America about this issue. What’s your sense on that?

CAIN: I believe that the office of the presidency and the bully pulpit should be used for that because I happen to believe that we have many instances where, if you appeal to people’s hearts, you can change their minds. I had the experience of visiting a facility in Houston, Texas, not too long ago. It was a women’s facility, I can’t remember the name. I happened to be there that day, what they do, they work with young ladies who have gotten pregnant and they think they want an abortion. It was so moving to walk in there, and they introduced me to a young lady who had decided not to have an abortion, and see that pretty baby there. If you touch the hearts of people you can get people’s minds to change, but you have to show them the beauty of not aborting a life. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest leaders this country has ever seen. How did he bring about the movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964? He touched the hearts of people. That’s what a president needs to have the ability to do, in order to change peoples’ minds.

BRODY: You’re saying as president of the United States, you can be a business man and also somewhat of a social conservative warrior as well?

CAIN: Yes. You sure can. You sure can because if people trust you, they will believe in you and they might rethink some of their thoughts on some of these social issues.

Besides noting how different this last statement is than his first statements, did you notice anything else interesting in Cain’s comments to CBN?

CAIN: If we can get the necessary support [a pro-life amendment to the Constitution] and it comes to my desk I’ll sign it. That’s all I can do. I will sign it.

Perhaps, if Cain really wants to be President he should, you know, like, um, maybe, read the Constitution! If he did, he might learn that Presidents don’t sign constitutional amendments; in fact, Presidents have no real role to play in the amendment process.

And though this is only tangentially related to the direct question of Cain’s position on the legality of abortion, his comments on efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are worth considering:

Here’s why I support de-funding Planned Parenthood, because you don’t hear a lot of people talking about this, when Margaret Sanger — check my history — started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world,” Cain told on Tuesday when speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Cain’s comment was in response to a question from about whether the Republican-controlled Congress should vote against any federal tax dollars for Planned Parenthood.

“You don’t see that talked that much about,” said Cain. “It’s not Planned Parenthood. No, it’s planned genocide. You can quote me on that.”

I’ll leave discussion of that quote for another day.

But, to sum it up, here is what I understand Cain’s position to be on the issue of abortion:

  • He is pro-life, from conception; and
  • Abortion should be illegal; but
  • Government shouldn’t make the decision about whether there are exceptions; though
  • Abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest; but
  • It should be up to a family to decide if the life of the mother is at risk; and
  • Government shouldn’t tell people what to do on a social decision they have to make; but
  • If people chose to have an abortion, even after rape or incest, it would be an illegal abortion.


  • As President he would just have an opinion that wouldn’t be a directive on the nation; but
  • He would use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to convince people not to have abortions; but
  • The Government shouldn’t tell people what to do about social decisions; but
  • He would “sign” a constitutional amendment to ban abortions.

Clear now?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear Cain’s positions on complex issues with lots of variables. I mean, how hard is it, really, to enunciate a clear and consistent position on an issue like abortion? I mean, it isn’t as if this is a brand new issue that was suddenly sprung upon politicians; nor is it an issue upon which few people, other than experts who’ve spent decades of study, can develop a reasonably thorough understanding and a cogent, consistent positions It seems to me that Cain has memorized his talking point (“I’m pro-life, from conception”) but doesn’t really have a firm understanding of the actual issue, the impact on real people, or, perhaps most importantly, what words (i.e., “decision” or “choice”) really mean.

Amy Sullivan, writing for’s Swampland blog, sums it up quite well:

There’s nothing refreshing about a would-be President whose answers to complicated questions depend on total ignorance of the issues involved.

Finally, if you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch this web ad for Herman Cain. It may be one of the strangest political ads ever. Watch carefully at about 0:40.

Seriously? Smoking? And what’s with that really creepy smile that Cain gives at the end? It’s like he knows something that we don’t. I mean, that the smile of a man who is saying, “Boy, am I pulling one over on these idiots…”.

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