Herman Cain Couldn't Care Less About You

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- What's not to love about Herman Cain? He's emerged from nowhere to best Mitt Romney in some polls, and there's nothing Americans adore more than the champion who comes out of nowhere. Think National Velvet. Think Secretariat.

Besides, this particular entry in the Presidential Triple Crown is succeeding where the rest of the Republican field fails in every crucial respect, falling short only in such trivia as having competent advisors and a coherent program.

Let's face it, folks, Cain is the best -- as well as being arguably the worst -- of a gawdawful Republican presidential field. Love him or hate him, you have to admit: Here is a guy who knows how to manipulate the media without even trying. And let's face it, how else can you become president nowadays? If I were assigned to write a profile of him, I know perfectly well what would happen. Like the rest of the media, I would drool. (True, the media is definitely drooling over those sexual-harassment charges, but I suspect that this contretemps will soon pass.)

The savagery of his message, the inhumanity of his soak-the-poor-and-middle-class "9-9-9" tax proposal -- the biggest giveaway for the wealthy since Kemp-Roth rewrote the tax laws in 1981 -- would fade away beneath the sheer charm of his persona, his baritone voice, his cute Internet commercials.

The rest of the Republican presidential candidates aren't in his class. Look at them: Romney, who looks like the corporate suit who brings you into his office, with security, to tell you to clean out your desk; Rick Perry, whose "bad lip-reading" viral video makes more sense than his speeches; Ron Paul, who would rewrite A Christmas Carol to make Scrooge a good guy; Darth Vader in the person of Newt Gingrich; and the rest of the field, capable politicians who too often sound and act like sloganeering and, worst of all, predictable automatons.

God love him, Cain is an individual. He is the Howard Roark of this contest. Roark was the hero of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, and the champion of capitalism is the spiritual godmother of today's Republican Party. Cain is the candidate who comes closest of any in the Republican field to what Rand idealized as "Money-Makers." In an article in Cosmopolitan in 1963, she distinguished between "Money-Makers" and "Money-Appropriators," clearly favoring the former.

A "Money-Maker," she said, is "the discoverer who translates his discovery into material goods" (pizza, for instance). The lesser species of capitalist, the "Money-Appropriator," is "essentially noncreative -- and his basic goal is to acquire an unearned share of wealth created by others. He seeks to get rich, not by conquering nature, but by manipulating men" and by "social maneuvering." Sort of what Romney did when he was in the private-equity biz. (For more on this general topic, you'll have to, ahem, read my book.)

Above all, Cain is extreme -- a trait that seems to be a defining characteristic of the Republican field. With the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, who has been squished in the polls as a result, the Republican candidates take positions that would have been considered on the far-right fringe in virtually every other previous presidential race. In fact, with the possible exception of the libertarian Ron Paul, Cain is probably the most extreme of any of the candidates. It is a testament to the polarization of modern politics that rather than his extremism being a liability, it has actually helped make his candidacy a success.

His 9-9-9 tax plan, after all, is little more than a variation on flat-tax schemes that have been kicking around Washington for most of the past three decades. Most of them haven't gone anywhere because they are a terrible idea.

Back in the early 1980s, the flat tax was pushed by a then-prominent Democrat, an otherwise sensible former New Jersey senator named Bill Bradley. The problem with the flat tax is that it would do precisely what it sets out to do, which is to simplify the tax code. It would make the tax code simple in much the same way as foreclosure is a simple solution to an overdue mortgage. (Refinancing is so gosh-darned complicated. Just take away their house!) Simple is not always best, and a flat tax would eliminate the "complexity" of the tax code by putting billionaires on the same footing as their chauffeurs.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why anyone other than a very rich person should give a damn about the tax code being complex. Tax code unfairness -- epitomized by the dreadful alternative minimum tax -- is one thing, but complexity? I don't see the problem. Most people navigate the annual tax forms just fine. For lower-income people, Form 1040EZ works well, and the rest of us have tax software or accountants. If Cain feels the tax code is too complicated, perhaps he should take fewer deductions.

But there is a logical reason to focus on the complexity of the tax code -- if you want to give a bonanza to the super-rich, as Cain does. Pretty much everyone who has given the 9-9-9 plan any serious thought has concluded that it would be a horrible idea. If, that is, you think it is horrible to make the tax code inequitable. But that would require a moral judgment, which brings me back to Ayn Rand. She believed that any income tax is immoral, and that it constitutes "looting" from some people to give to others.

Ayn Rand, meet your candidate: Herman Cain. As for the rest of us, he's your man if you're rich and immoral, or not-rich and not too particular about paying more in taxes. He would be a terrible choice for president. But the way the 2012 campaign is shaping up, with a weak Barack Obama and a robotic Republican field, there is an outside chance that this Secretariat may break out of the pack and -- oh my God ... I don't even want to think about it.

Gary Weiss's forthcoming book, AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, will be published by St. Martin's Press on Feb. 28, 2012.

Gary Weiss has covered Wall Street wrongdoing for almost a quarter century. His coverage of stock fraud at BusinessWeek won many awards, and included a cover story, �The Mob on Wall Street,� which exposed mob infiltration of brokerages. He uncovered the Salomon Brothers bond-trading scandal, and wrote extensively on the dangers posed by hedge funds, Internet fraud and out-of-control leverage. He was a contributing editor at Conde Nast Porfolio, writing about the people most intimately involved in the financial crisis, from Timothy Geithner to Bernard Madoff. His book "Born to Steal" (Warner Books: 2003), described the Mafia's takeover of brokerage houses in the 1990s. "Wall Street Versus America" (Portfolio: 2006) was an account of investor rip-offs. He blogs at garyweiss.blogspot.com.

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