RIDGE, MD. - I started my journey to Fredericksburg, Virginia after a bowl of exquisite spicy crab soup at Courtney's Seafood Restaurant here in Ridge, on the southernmost tip of Maryland's western shore. Then I ran into a problem: Route 234 was closed due to a sinkhole. So I took the detour, but discovered it was also blocked off due to a traffic matter. So after two hours I returned to the hotel where I had been the night before.
And so it goes for American politics.
Once again we're watching a politician, his campaign and some of his supporters, get detoured as they try to escape getting sucked into America's political sinkhole. The candidate: soaring-in-the-polls former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, a Republican Presidential nomination front-runner, subject of a story by The Politico reporting two 1990s sexual harassment allegations against him. Just as many teens won't listen and do drugs anyway, many politicians refuse to realize that if there's something possibly untidy in their background, it will come out, so you better get it out yourself soon and stick to a single explanation.
How has team Cain handled it? Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson must be their damage control consultants.
They bungled the response from the outset, ignoring Republican establishment maven Karl Rove's pointed advice to get any negative stuff out ASAP so damage is minimized. They fed the news cycle and guaranteed the media will persist. Cain campaign Manager Mark Block, star of the famous Cain "smoking man" campaign ad, read a carefully worded statement - and this time seemed to be blowing political smoke.
Cain seems to be a decent, likable man raised in a generation where sexual harassment wasn't an issue but a rhetorical stretch. He has now changed his story more frequently than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney changes his principles. Only less convincingly.
And so our political sinkhole is on display on several fronts.
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and a host of new and old media tea party oriented conservative pundits who always blast Democrats for playing the "race card" are now ... playing the race card. Why, can't you SEE that Cain is being targeted by that evil, liberal news media for being a black conservative? (Let's forget about the fact that The Politico has never been seriously considered a liberal website and that conservatives applaud The Politico when its reports are unflattering to Democrats.) Democrats who insisted that President Bill Clinton's behavior and testimony in the Monica Lewinsky episode wasn't a huge deal now suggest that Cain should be toast and must come totally clean.
I'd say "Welcome to Hypocrisy 101," except our political culture now only offers doctorate level courses.
Not all conservatives defend Cain. The National Review's Kevin D. Williamson says he's troubled by Cain's original (later changed) explanation that he didn't know if there had been a settlement or not: "I got a lot of grief for writing that, based on my interaction with Mr. Cain, I would have hesitated to hire him to run a pizza company. I am feeling more comfortable in that judgment."
Meanwhile, as Occupy Wall Street gets lots of attention, a new political movement is revving up: Occupy Herman Cain's Political Space.
In Spain last week, Spanish shepherds defending ancient grazing and protesting the impact of urban sprawl led 5,000 sheep through the streets of Madrid. It was quite a spectacle. Almost as much of a spectacle as now watching America's political sheep walk straight, willingly and quite predictably into American's political sinkhole.