You may know him as the pizza mogul honored on the walls of Yorkside, the star of a “Daily Show” segment (see “Herman Cain: An American Presidency”) or simply as a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful. With his Southern drawl and quotable debate performances, Herman Cain became a national celebrity last year. Though he failed to obtain the Republican candidacy, Cain’s still working for America, pushing hard to get his message out with trips across the country and his radio show. Following Cain’s eventful Yale Political Union debut this week, WEEKEND sat down with him to discuss taxes (9–9–9!), Syria and his plans to elevate America’s political IQ.
Q. How did you enjoy your time at Yale?
A. I thought it was awesome. It was a packed house. What I found most interesting was the old-time British parliament format, the stompin’ and the hissin’. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I enjoyed the feedback I got from students — the stompers and the hissers.
Q. Before becoming a presidential candidate, you were a pizza man. Some say that New Haven has the best pizza in the country, so do you have a favorite New Haven pizza place?
A. No, because I didn’t get a chance to eat any pizza in New Haven. We went to the place next to Mory’s, York … York … something? [WKND: Yorkside?] Yorkside! They have a picture of me hanging on the wall from the late 1980s, and the students I was with told me about it, and I said “Get out of here!” So I walked over there. I don’t have a favorite pizza place because I didn’t get a chance to eat it, but let’s just say Yorkside would have to be one of the first places I would try.
Q. The Pew Research Center reported that of all the Republican candidates in the 2012 presidential primary race, you received the most media coverage. What was it like to be in the limelight like that?
A. It was bittersweet. The sweet was it gave me the opportunity to get my message out, in terms of the solutions that this country ought to be working on making happen. The bitter was when some in the mainstream media turned viciously against me because of some accusations that were never proven. They insisted on pursuing it when there was no evidence. Overall, I got more out of it than having to go through that. It’s been all sweet since then (the primary). There has been no focus on the bitter part because there was nothing to it to begin with. How many times can you write the same story over and over, saying nothing about it but accusations?
Q. What part of the message have you been focusing on getting out since the primary?
A. Solving America’s biggest problem: replacing the tax code. Not reform, replace. Capitalize the word replace. Reform will not fix the problem. If we replace the tax code, we will create a much more robust economy in terms of growth. We can solve a whole lot of problems in terms of growth. Our tax code is our biggest barrier to success. At my website, hermancain.com, there are 3 options. We’re having a national poll as we speak. [There’s the] fair tax, flat tax, and 9-9-9 plan that I developed. I’m going to take a vote of everyone that decides to vote to pick that best plan and try to rally people around one plan that we would demand at the U.S. Congress. I would be happy with either one, even though it’s the 9-9-9 plan that I developed. Whatever the people prefer, that’s what I’m going to get behind, that’s what I’m going to get others behind, so we can move forward.
Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the country right now? What concerns you the most about the world?
A. The economy. Domestically, the economy concerns me the most, because we do not have a policy that is growing the economy. That’s why I’m focusing on the movement. Internationally, the biggest thing that concerns me is that we do not have a very clear foreign policy. All you have to do is look at the mess related to Syria.
Q. If you were president, how would you be handling the crisis in Syria right now?
A. If I had been president, the situation in Syria probably never would have happened, because I would have done something to pre-empt those kinds of things going on. I would not have waited for 100,000 people to be killed. I would have rallied with international partners, trying to get them to put whatever pressures we could not to get to this point. When it first started, something should have been done, [though] not necessarily a military strike. But instead this administration sat back and waited till it got to the point of outcry around the world before this administration was thinking about doing something. We still don’t have clarity on what it is they expect to achieve. I don’t think it ever would have gotten to this point had I been president.
Q. So what do you think are the most important qualities for a president to have?
A. Leadership. Leadership is the ability to Work on the right problem — W — and Ask the right questions — A — and Remove barriers — R. What that will lead you to is prioritization, prioritizing the right things. This administration … we cannot spend our way to prosperity. Energy independence could be moving along much faster than it is, in spite of the federal government and its regulations, energy is moving forward. If the government got out of the way it could be moving much faster, [and we would] not [be] subject to the whims of energy-producing countries like we are today. The economy, energy independence and of course, national security. Our military is weak right now. We need to re-strengthen it. It’s not just how much money. It’s been drained by the war in Iraq, been drained by what’s going on in Afghanistan, been drained by other smaller conflicts in other parts of the world.
Q. How do you think the state of the military will affect any American action in Syria?
A. In Syria, it’s dependent on what they decide to do. The military will rise to the occasion, but you can only strain your military so much before it reaches a breaking point where it will not be as effective as it will normally be. We still don’t know what the outcome would be if we used military force. That’s going to open up an entire Pandora’s box.
Q. Going back to you now: what have you been up to since election season ended?
A. I have a syndicated radio talk show. People can find out more about it at my website, hermancain.com. The radio show is basically what’s consuming all my time.
Q. How do you like being a radio man?
A. I love it, love it, love it. It gives me an opportunity to continue trying to help people become better educated about what’s going on in this country. Too many people are clueless. When people have the right information, they’ll make the right decision. This is something Thomas Jefferson said years ago, and he’s right. I want to raise the political IQ of a lot of people who have a very low political IQ.
Q. Is a 2016 run on the horizon for you?
A. Nope! Not at this part point in time. But last time around I didn’t know that was something on the horizon. I have no plans right now, but I didn’t have any plans in 2012. Because of circumstances, considerations and frustrations I decided to run. A lot can happen between now and 2016.