At the end of the GOP primary debate in Las Vegas last night, Herman Cain tweeted that his foreign policy philosophy -- which he somewhat grandiosely calls the "Cain doctrine" -- is simple: "Peace through strength and clarity." But the candidate, who's been surging in the polls of late, did little to clarify his fuzzy foreign-policy views in Nevada, grabbing headlines instead for dithering on a question posed by CNN's Anderson Cooper as to whether he would swap Guantánamo Bay prisoners for a U.S. soldier held by a terrorist group like al Qaeda.
Cain might not be talking much about world affairs, but the world's certainly talking about him. News outlets across the globe are reacting differently to Cain's surprise success in the polls, but there are some common threads across regions: skepticism about Cain's credentials and staying power, a fixation on his skin color and improbable life story, and a conviction that Cain largely owes his recent popularity -- however fleeting it may be -- to his outsider status. Oh, and some outlets appear to be asking a simple question: What the heck are Americans thinking?
Many news outlets in Europe are telling the story of how Cain went from a poor childhood in Atlanta to running Godfather's Pizza -- and homing in on Cain's race. "Could it be that 12 months from now, as the 2012 election campaign moves to a climax, no white man will have a chance of winning the presidency of the United States?" the London-based Independent marvels. Austria's Die Press runs with the headline, "Obama's Black Challenger," while Germany's Rheinische Post describes Cain as a "kind of Donald Trump with darker skin." Meanwhile, France's Atlantico bizarrely notes that Cain is a "real African-American" (unlike Obama), and Spain's ABC questions whether the Republican base could actually elect a black candidate.
The general consensus in the European press is that Cain is a flavor of the month. The Guardian notes that while Cain's outsider status (he's never held political office), his rise from humble beginnings, and his "blunt talk and excellent comic timing" are appealing, he may very well crash and burn like other "rightwing darlings" Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry before him (apparently the paper has already written off Bachmann and Perry as contenders). Cain's success, Spain's El País argues, is proof that Republican voters aren't happy with any of their candidates. As for the view from Moscow, the state-run Voice of Russia bluntly states that the "days of Herman Cain as an election leader are numbered and soon he will have to step out of the spotlight to give way to a more skilled candidate." One wonders if they're thinking of Putin as an option?
Some coverage is even harsher. In an article entitled, "Der Pizza-Präsident," Germany's Der Spiegel pokes fun at Cain's new book -- This Is Herman Cain! -- calling the entire work one big "exclamation point." In France, Libération's Great America blog ridicules Cain's endorsement of an electrified fence and an alligator-filled moat to keep immigrants out of the United States. With each successive "blunder," the blog argues, Cain is proving that he's not a "serious candidate for the presidency." Russia's RT takes Cain to task for managing to "single-handedly create a new nation on planet Earth" in Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, noting that "the pizzaman is perhaps more equipped to talk pepperoni than policy" (the tightly controlled Uzbek media, interestingly enough, is silent on Cain). It appears the Italian press has yet to comment on the quality of Godfather's pizza, but it has latched onto the pizza theme. La Repubblica frames the Republican race right now as the "pizza man vs. the Mormon" (Romney, not Huntsman) while Il Journal points out that Cain is following in the footsteps of several other pizza magnates who have supported the GOP.
The most cutting piece comes from the German-language website Nachrichten in St. Gallen, Switzerland. In a column titled, "Nein-Nein-Nein," Patrik Etschmayer argues that Cain's success speaks to the increasing absurdity of the U.S. presidential election. Cain, he claims, has simply substituted Godfather's Pizza's "A Pizza You Can't Refuse" slogan with his "9-9-9" tax plan. The Republican candidate "knows how to peddle a product that is neither particularly good nor unique," Etschmayer declares.
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