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The Cain self-delusion

Like many of us who watch politics, we have all watched and weighed in on the spectacular rise and fall of Herman Cain. Most of the press folks with whom I spoke this week were incredulous as to how someone like Cain could even think of running for office, given his skirt-chasing.

I have now covered Washington politics for 20 years. That’s 20 years of seeing people self-destruct. Of course, I had quite a bit of experience seeing people self-destruct in my 20 previous years working in the mental health field. People with perfectly good lives would spin out of control with relationships or rage attacks or substance abuse. It was really quite a spectacular thing to observe.

Previously, I have written about people whose inner life does not match their outer life and, hence, the need to become active in political life to control their inner demons. These types of politicians have often come from very difficult backgrounds and seek to get approval by doing something good and having people vote for them and often adore them. It sets up a never-ending wish for more political praise and often more political power. However, the end result to that kind of inner conflict is more disconnect between the inner and out self and more need to match the two selves by doing something self-destructive. We have all seen this pattern of behavior.

The Herman Cain self-destruction may be something else entirely. It may be the bubble that goes along with power and business. Most of us have been involved with that kind of bubble in order to survive. We might be asked by a boss to render an opinion on his management technique or some new product. How many of us in a business situation have not told the truth to a manager or even a co-worker, fearing that telling them the truth would lead to a problem down the road for us?

How often does someone present us with an idea, a product or new way of doing something and we encourage our associate or boss to go ahead with it, thinking that there is no harm in trying but it is most likely a terrible idea? This is what I think happened to Herman Cain.

He came up through the ranks, but once he became CEO of Godfather Pizza, all reality must have been lost. It was most likely a rare if a never occurrence that anyone said, “Mr. Cain, that idea is off the wall.” If most people said that to their CEOs, they would not be employed by the company much longer.

After Godfather’s Pizza, Cain became a radio talk-show host. Some small market talk-show hosts take their own calls and hear a variety of opinions. However, in most large markets such as in Atlanta, the hosts have call screeners. That means hosts don’t have to hear any opinion they don’t want. In fact, shows often screen out demographics they don’t want, such as people who sound old. Herman Cain did not have to be confronted on a daily basis by people from whom he did not want to hear.

It is true that the Internet has now provided people with the opportunity to immediately comment on a program or written commentary they don’t like, but talk hosts and writers don’t have to read those comments. Unlike a call or an opinion given to a co-worker or boss that is verbally rendered, written opinion can just be ignored.

The self-delusion that took over candidate Herman Cain is an example of what is a problem in business management and often in politics. People surround themselves with a “yes” culture, and even the CEO who wants to hear the truth might not because people are afraid to let them understand reality. It happened to Bill Clinton in the White House. No one wanted to warn him about his wanton eyes. It has happened to many members of Congress when staff can see scary behavior and bad decisions. It clearly happened to Herman Cain. Maybe there needs to be a 9/11 style campaign directed to the candidate’s staff: “If you see something, say something.” It might prevent the soap opera we saw this week and restore some sanity to future self-deluded politicians.