Here is what Herman Cain told participants in the Florida straw poll this past weekend before they cast their ballots:
When you cast your ballot at this straw poll, send Washington a message. They're ready for a problem solver, not another politician. They're ready for solutions, not more speeches. That's what the United States of America, the people are ready for. Send Washington a message.
This was enough to give him 37% of the vote. The significance of this number can be seen in that the next two candidates, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, received 29% combined. That says something for a candidate whose leadership experience had nothing to do with politics and culminated in serving as CEO for Godfather’s Pizza; but, since only 3500 Floridians participated in the straw poll, it is unclear just how much it says. Certainly, as far as Fox News is concerned, it was not an endorsement of the significance of Cain’s message, since Sean Hannity seemed more interested in interviewing Rick Santorum than on giving Cain an opportunity to elaborate on his words.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the Labour Party has been having its annual conference in Liverpool, where they heard Ed Miliband deliver a similar message. Like Cain he did not pull any punches in taking the very foundations of his nation’s government to task. Here is how BBC News reported his speech:
"Recognise what is staring you in the face - and understand that protecting our economy matters more than protecting your failed plan," he advised the prime minister.
He told delegates the phone hacking scandal, the banking crisis and the summer riots "point to something deep in our country - the failure of a system, a way of doing things, an old set of rules.
"An economy and a society too often rewarding not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values."
Mind you, he was not trying to win a straw poll with these words. He was addressing a faithful flock of party insiders with the usual arguments to lay the blame on the other party. Thus, Miliband’s call for reform comes from the inside, while Cain came to the Florida poll as an outsider taking all insiders to task.
Will either of these voices prevail? Both were right to play for a national spirit that is fed up with being crushed by political business-as-usual. These are times in which calling for reform is a good way to get elected, and Barack Obama remains an outstanding case in point. However, he is also a case in point for the problems that face the reform candidate who succeeds in getting elected, a predicament that was excellently depicted in the fictitious account of a reform candidate for Mayor of Baltimore in The Wire. Indeed, Obama may well have left the legacy of a nation that no longer has the audacity to hope that a failed system of representative government can give way to a new “way of doing things.” The enemy of reform is inertia, and my guess is that neither Cain nor Miliband would dare talk about just how much inertia there is in that system or why there is so much of it.