AS THE GREAT man himself might put it, the Herman Cain campaign is now in the Trash-cani-cani-cani-stan-stan: The former pizza magnate and motivational speaker dropped out of the Republican presidential primary on Saturday, a month before the first delegate is to be chosen.
It was the right decision - but for the wrong reasons.
Not that sexual harassment is in any way a trivial matter, although we could argue that Cain's adamant stance against basic reproductive rights suggests a greater disrespect to women's rights to bodily autonomy than decades-old claims of groping and unwanted sexual attention. (Same deal for that 13-year consensual "fun" affair.)
It is Cain's lack of understanding of basic issues facing the country and the world - and, even more, his dismissal of the notion that he even needed to know about them - that should have disqualified him from the nomination. As he told an interviewer, if he were asked to name the leader of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," he would say he didn't need to know "the head of some small insignificant state around the world." His painfully obvious lack of knowledge about the war in Libya, exhibited at an endorsement interview in Milwaukee, was explained away with the same nonchalance.
So Cain's brief - three weeks, by our count - surge to the top of national polls tells us a lot about the surreal state of politics in this country.
It confirms what journalist Matt Taibbi wrote last fall about the rise of the tea party: the issue isn't really ideology; it's complexity. A substantial minority of our citizens - at least we pray it's a minority - believe that all our nation's problems can be solved with "basic common sense." And that the best qualification for leading the country is a lack of experience; education is "elitist" and science is a matter of opinion.
In his strange "Herman Cain Train" YouTube video, the candidate boasts that he turned around Godfather's Pizza with "common-sense business principles, and we can turn this country around the same way."
In other words, running the country is as simple as 9-9-9.
Except it isn't, and it's long past time to start saying so.
For months, of course, many observers refused to take Cain seriously as a candidate. Instead, he - and, it must be said, the new front-runner, Newt Gingrich - were believed to be following the lead of Donald Trump, using the publicity surrounding a presidential run to boost the sales of the books they had just published. In fact, both Cain's and Gingrich's schedules revolved around book-signing engagements, and neither has established the kind of campaign organization that historically has been needed to get voters to caucuses or polls.
So what is worse, a candidate running for president as a publicity stunt or one who seriously believes that governing the country is no more challenging than running a pizza chain?