Herman Cain's 9,9,9 plan, concision, and the rest of the GOP nomination field
Oct 11, 2011

Herman Cain's 9,9,9 plan, concision, and the rest of the GOP nomination field

One of the problems with the mass media is the need for concision; that is, the need to be able to explain oneself within the very short periods of time one gets on TV (and other mediums). One is thus constrained to only saying very simple ideas or by referencing ideas that are already latent and understood within the population. See the video below for an excellent description of this problem by Noam Chomsky.

In the 2012 GOP nomination process, Hermain Cain has provided an excellent example of this issue of concision with his 9,9,9 plan. The plan is both simple to say and simply to understand (it is a nine percent consumption tax, a nine percent personal income tax, and a nine percent corporate tax). Most of the debates have given individuals two minutes to express their opinion on an issue, and while it is an unorthodox position not latent within the population, he can easily make people understand it in the minuscule two minutes allotted to it.

Contrast this with Romney, for instance, who has a 50+ point economic plan that one can read on the Internet, but to which he can only reference in the debate without going into any details. He is thus reduced to platitudes about how he has experience, how he has a big plan (that most won't bother to read or learn), and how great the outcome of this plan would be.

It is this advantage that Cain has, where his plan is perfectly expressible given the constraints of concision, that has really underpinned at least some of his recent success. One the problems among any ideologically consistent group (such as the GOP candidates, outside of the libertarians) is that it is hard to stand out from the field. They all claim Obama is terrible, that we need to cut spending, cut taxes, cut regulation, repeal Obamacare, etc. What Cain offers with 9,9,9 is differentiability because he can espouse a plan in the time given that people understand and recognize as different and separate from the rest of the field. Of course, whether his plan is a good plan or a bad plan could never be appropriately discussed within the time constraints of a GOP leadership debate answer.

One might think that the answer is for all candidates to try and come up with such similar sound-byte economic plans if it can give Cain success. The problem is that such unorthodox positions are only possible because of his irrelevancy. There is no reason to suspect he actually has a shot at the Presidency, and indeed historically people rarely if ever get elected by pushing a highly unorthodox plan that they alone are pushing for. He is advocating entirely throwing out the tax code and going with something completely different and that fact alone disqualifies him from the chance to actually win. However, it really works in reverse. He is able to say such unorthodox ideas because he already had no shot at winning and so can take the easy route of gaining popularity with such ideas.

The rest of the GOP field:

It is worth contrasting Cain with some of the others in the field that also will not win. Michele Bachman, for instance, has a lot to gain politically regardless of the outcome. As the head of the Tea Party in congress, every debate she enters and the further she gets in the campaign, the more prominently she is placed as the de facto leader of the Tea Party in general and the further she supplants Sarah Palin. The exposure and prominence gained from running is a huge advantage for her regardless of the fact that she is very unlikely to win.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, certainly knows he can't win but he can gain by pushing the libertarian movement, something he has done with enormous success. It drives awareness and prominence for the cause itself, in contrast to Bachman who stands to gain more personally. Ditto Gary Johnson, who may also like the idea of taking the libertarian standard bearer position from Ron Paul.

Newt Gringrich doesn't represent a cause at all (at least Bachman at least tacitly can say she is driving the Tea Party cause) and may have initially thought he stood a chance at winning based on his history. Now that it is clear he is a second tier candidate, he will probably drop out early in the nomination process. Rick Santorum and John Huntsman probably recognize the historic fact that very often the nomination goes to people who have built up past nomination experience and so they are very likely laying the groundworks now with the intent to win in 2016 or 2020. Cain remains, I think, something of an enigma with regards to his motivations and I will leave largely uncommented upon. Perhaps he is in the last category, with Santorum and Huntsman, and perhaps (this also applies for all of the above candidates) he genuinely thinks he has a shot at winning. When identifying alternative motivations and ways that running can benefit people, this latter fact that people may - rightly or wrongly - think they have a real shot should not be underestimated.

That leaves the two people who actually have a shot: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who, by that fact alone, need nothing further said regarding their motivations.


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1 comment:

maverik said...

Ironically, Chomsky makes an excellent point in under four minutes :p

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