“Facts are stupid things,” Ronald Reagan once said, in a classic political gaff. It seems that at least one Republican presidential candidate is taking Reagan seriously. “I don’t have facts to back this up,” Herman Cain said in a recent interview, right before he claimed the Occupy Wall Street protests were organized to distract people from the “failed policies of the Obama administration.”
Regardless of what people think about Occupy Wall Street, everyone should be alarmed that a presidential candidate is answering questions with ideas that, he freely admits, have no factual basis. If this is the new standard of political discourse, why not say that the economic crisis was caused by aliens, and draft unemployed factory workers to look for flying saucers?
Of course, it is possible that Herman Cain slipped up. Omnipresent media coverage can wear a person out, and we all say things we don’t really mean sometimes. However, any person who wants to become President of the United States should know better; Cain should know to watch himself and, if he did not know what to say, to not say anything.
The Republican presidential is getting pretty intense, but there have to be some limits. People may want a president who is forthcoming and honest, but I’m pretty sure they don’t want someone who always says the first thing that pops into his head. Asking a candidate to stick to the facts in their analysis of current events is a reasonable request.
Political discourse has become more savage and less productive in recent years, at least partially because we allow politicians to say whatever they want. The people should hold Cain accountable for making the claim he did without having the facts to back it up. That is not a free speech issue, it’s a rationality issue. Politicians are entitled to express their views, but when they make specific claims, those claims should at least be true.