I learned something important from my polling in the Lewinsky scandal. While the political world and the media were focused on the narrow question of who was right, Clinton or Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, most voters opted for a third choice: “We don’t care. We don’t want to hear more about this. This is no way to run a government or choose a president.” Some resented the public discussion of oral sex, noting that their children were watching. They didn’t want to hear it.
So it is with the accusations against Herman Cain. We are mired in the worst economic condition in eighty years and will not tolerate more talk about who invited whom up to their room and for what. We don’t care. We don’t want to know. We want you to go away and let us choose a president based on the serious and grave issues we are trying to consider. We think the media is a distraction and we want it to stop its drumbeat coverage. Pro-Cain or anti-Cain is irrelevant. We want the issue to go away!
This third dimension of public reaction was evident when the CNBC reporters in last night’s debate tried to ask Cain about the accusations. The crowd would have none of it. When the reporters tried to couch the questions as relating to managerial ability or the character required of a CEO, they still hooted down the question. In that moment, I realized that Cain would survive for the same reason Clinton made it – we have more important things to worry about.
The media does not admit of this third dimension. Its mavens and executives give themselves the job of deciding what is news. They present the news. We render our verdict on it. That’s how its supposed to work. But when the news media goes crazy covering something we don’t care about, we make our voices heard. And that’s what the audience did last night.
In the meantime, Cain was his usual charismatic, brilliant debater articulating his 9-9-9 proposal better than he ever has and demonstrating its centrality to solving our economic problems. The contrast between the statesmanship and breadth of his remedy and the tawdriness of the charges and counter-charges was evident.
In case the media didn’t get the message, it is this: WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR, READ, OR SEE MORE ABOUT THIS STUPID STORY — GO AWAY!