Firesign Theater cultists will instantly recognize the headline of this post as a play on the title of their first comedy album, “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” released in 1968. Those who aren’t Firesigners can catch up here. “Electrician” is my favorite Firesign offering because it lampooned the counter culture while that culture was at its zenith. Though cultural rebels of the sixties and seventies loved this comedy act, they were often the target of the troupe’s lampooning. But FT did it in a mostly good-natured fashion, unlike the acidic manner in which Frank Zappa ridiculed hippies with the help of his band The Mothers of Invention. What made the Firesign Four so unique and so doggone funny was their impeccable timing. It was more than just stage timing, but rather timing in the sense that the troupe were quick to spot cultural trends and incorporate them into their work. That sold a heck of a lot of comedy records, which are historically slow-moving merchandise, for the “four or five crazy guys,” and they became cultural icons themselves.
The 2012 GOP presidential derby is more than a political sweepstakes. It encompasses a significant cultural component as well, which is why the first Firesign LP came immediately to mind when I set out to write this post. Its thesis is rather straightforward. While Reagan conservatives wait for Sarah Palin to get into the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, the early innings of the game are going through phases where we see the GOP team’s fans clutching onto one Sarah substitute after another. None of these substitutes being The Real Thing, each successive infatuation is all too fleeting. When the realization sinks in that the current substitute of the month or week is lacking in some attribute which is essential to Sarah Palin’s appeal, the seekers (while doubtless sipping a cup of the Firesign’s favorite strange brew — “Ersatz Bros. Coffee, the REAL ONE !”), find themselves a new Palin proxy to latch onto.
Consider that Rep. Michele Bachmann was once the apple of their eyes (or, as the Firesign fellows say, “Everyone knew her as Nancy”). This infatuation lasted until the realization began to sink in that the Congresswoman from Minnesota would be savaged by the Democrat/Media complex as thoroughly as has Gov. Palin been, and further that her experience is in the legislative, not the executive, realm. History tells us that only one sitting U.S. Representative has managed to go directly from the floor of the House to an Oval Office desk. And so Bachmann Fill-In-The-Blank Overdrive began to downshift into lower gears to try to cope with the steep climb ahead.
Enter The Donald, who made the hearts of many who were longing for a bandwagon to jump onto beat faster. So desperate for a champion to challenge The One were the searchers that they were willing to throw common sense to the wind to sing Mr. Trump’s praises to any who would listen and many who didn’t want to hear it. Some of the Trumpeters were willing to stretch beyond Mr. Fantastic’s superhero abilities to forgive Trump his embrace of liberal Democrats and leftist policy positions simply because The Donald was willing to stand up to The One. Some of these are the same conservatives who still haven’t forgiven Sarah Palin for her refusal, out of friendship and loyalty, to throw John McCain under the bus. Go figure.
When the White House finally released a long form COLB which may or may not be authentic, birthers were sad to discover that most Americans were satisfied with it. Not that the president’s place of birth was ever that big of an issue for most of the electorate, as those pesky pocketbook issues continue to worry them. To quote a rather prescient Firesign Theater line from decades past, “That’s a nice story Mr. President, but where can I find a job?” Add to this the recent Trump tirade of f-bombs, and even the more delusional Trumpeters started looking for someone new, and the Donald has quickly become yesterday’s news. Or as the Firesign guys say, “Why, he’s no fun, he fell right over.”
The searchers were not without a shiny new candidate-object for long. The Fox News GOP “debate” in South Carolina this week gave them their latest love. Businessman Herman Cain could not help but shine, considering the lackluster crew with whom he shared the stage. The two left-libertarians, Rep. Ron Paul and former Gov. Gary Johnson, clearly demonstrated that they have little in common with Reagan conservatives and are just Bozos on the bus. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had some good answers, but came off as too much of a slick politician — dare we say Romneyesque? Former Sen. Rick Santorum probably helped himself with his performance, but he still has to overcome his support for Arlen Specter at the expense of Pat Toomey in 2004 and his 18-point defeat by Bob Casey two years later, the largest margin of defeat ever for an incumbent Republican Senator in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Cain, with his common sense answers delivered in a resonant baritone easily stood head and shoulders above the others that night. His only problem was a failure to get specific in his answers, which was responsible for what Byron York describes as “the most head-scratching moment of the night”:
It started when moderator Bret Baier asked Cain about a statement Cain made in an interview in January in which Cain said that as president he would rely heavily on whatever his generals and the experts told him should be done in the war. “You’re running for president,” Baier said to Cain. “After almost ten years in Afghanistan, you don’t have your own plan yet about what you would do in Afghanistan?”
“No,” Cain answered. ‘Because it’s not clear what the mission is. That’s the bigger problem. It’s not clear what the mission is…”
Baier followed up: “How would you define winning in Afghanistan right now, as you’re looking at it as a candidate?”
“My point is,” Cain explained, “the experts and their advice and their input would be the basis for me making that decision. I’m not privy to a lot of confidential information.”
It was an unusual way of approaching the question, to say the least. Was Cain saying that he couldn’t answer any questions about foreign policy, because he didn’t have the kind of classified information that only presidents have? When Cain met with reporters after the debate, he explained that he approached Afghanistan like he would a business decision. “A good businessman does not make a decision without considering all of the facts,” he said. “I haven’t been privy to all of the confidential information to make that decision.”
But if Cain could only formulate a policy position after receiving presidential-level briefings — did that mean he might never have a position as a candidate on Afghanistan? “That’s probably the case,” Cain said. Perhaps sensing that might be a problem down the road, he then explained that he might be able to put together “some sort of strategic approach” from publicly-available information. “What I’m saying is I will not be pushed into spitting out a plan so people can say, this is his plan.”
York says Cain’s answers on the foreign policy questions revealed “an astonishing lack of preparation on a key national security issue.” Cain faces a situation not unlike that which Gov. Palin ran up against as a vice presidential candidate in 2008. She had been a successful governor, and as such was strong on economic issues — especially energy-related ones. Though most governors are constitutionally bound to balance their states’ budgets, they had never been required to demonstrate expertise on foreign policy before Sarah Palin was put on a presidential ticket. Yet she was running for vice-president at the time, not the presidency. But now the goal posts have been moved, and the successful candidate for the GOP nomination will have to have some foreign policy chops. It’s not the kind of knowledge a candidate can acquire from a crash course on CDs or by attending college by correspondence. Gov. Palin has been working on it for two and half years now, and she recently raised the bar by hiring on Peter Schweizer to help her put the finishing touches on what we hope to soon see as a comprehensive Palin Doctrine, one which reaches far beyond her clear and commendable five point test of whether to commit U.S. troops to action overseas.
But Cain doesn’t have two and a half years to show that he’s got what it takes to handle situations which arise overseas that could seriously impact the United States. He has about a month until the next Republican debate, which is scheduled for June 7. He will also have to explain how a CEO dealing with a board of directors and shareholders is like a president who has to deal with the Senate and House. Though the relationships are similar in some ways, they are quite different in many others. If he cannot do these things, his star will fade and the seekers will latch onto The Next Big GOP Phenom. At least until the Sarahcuda gets in the race. Once that happens, everything changes. And you don’t need to hire a private investigator like Nick Danger, (sitting in his office listening to the endless staccato of raindrops on his desk, reading his name backwards in the glass — “Regnad Kcin…”), to tell you that.