Week In News: A Difficult Moment For Herman Cain

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain continues to face sexual harassment charges, but the conservative base of the party seems to remain loyal. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, about Cain's appeal in spite of scandal.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

And Herman Cain continues to garner public attention for allegations of sexual harassment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HERMAN CAIN: That's kind of what happens when you start to show up near or at the top of the polls. It just happens that way.

SULLIVAN: That was Cain yesterday, speaking before the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura.

SULLIVAN: Herman Cain was received quite warmly at that event. NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there, and she reports that she found a couple people troubled by the charges. But overwhelmingly, support for Cain was very strong.

FALLOWS: Of course we don't know the full truth of these allegations about Herman Cain or how it will affect his political campaign in the long run. We do know, however, that least in the first couple of days of the story, it seems to have strengthened as opposed to rapidly weakened his political support. And I think that underscore something that's quite unusual about this Republican primary race compared to any and either party I can think of over the last almost 50 years.

And what I mean is we have a contrast in the party between a candidate whose main argument is his alleged electability, that is, Mitt Romney who says he's governed in a Democratic state, et cetera, et cetera, and a candidate, a series of candidates, whose main appeal is that they reflect what the party and it's most conservative members really stand for. We had Rick Perry in this role. We had Michele Bachmann, and now, Herman Cain.

And, really, the last time I remember this stark contrast was in 1964 when it was Barry Goldwater who eventually won the nomination against Nelson Rockefeller. So that's what's strike me about this race right now.

SULLIVAN: Well, let's turn now from politics to Afghanistan where a senior military officer lost his job this week after making rather blunt public statements about Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Karzai went out and said that he would support Pakistan in a war against the United States. And this major general, Peter Fuller, said: Look, we've spent billions of dollars on your country and lost American lives. And he wasn't mincing words.

FALLOWS: He was not. And I think we've seen illustrated here a point about the military and maybe a larger point about the U.S. strategic position both with Afghanistan and with Pakistan. The point about the military, of course, is that uniformed officers are subject to civilian control.

They're not supposed to express big political views, especially controversial ones, even though over the last decade or so military officers have done a lot of the diplomacy in dealing with that part of the world and often are quite sophisticated in their understanding of the human and political forces there. Still, they can't say those things. And Major General Fuller is the latest person to be reminded of that fact.

The larger point, however, is that the frustration that General Fuller expressed here is similar to sentiments we've heard both from diplomats and quietly from American military people about dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two countries whose governments are very problematic for the U.S. to deal with, and yet two states the United States absolutely needs to deal with in trying to contain various long-term threats in that part of the world. So I think we saw a soldier who got in trouble for doing what soldiers are not always supposed to do, which is to tell the truth about political realities.

SULLIVAN: Well, we just can't end today without talking about "60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney who died yesterday at the age of 92.

I think it's important for NPR listeners to think of Andy Rooney in the same category as Daniel Schorr, who of course meant so much to this network over the years, in that both of them were part of this great generation, the so-called Murrow Boys, the people who are acolytes of Edward R. Murrow at CBS News and had this distinguished reputation and achievement for how broadcast could illuminate the world.

FALLOWS: People naturally think that about Daniel Schorr and some other people from that heritage. They're less likely to remember that about Andy Rooney because in recent decades he's had more of sort of a curmudgeon role in the "60 Minutes" essays. But he was part of a really distinguished tradition in American news. And I think in the long run, he will be seen that way.

SULLIVAN: It really does. I mean, it feels like the end of an era.

FALLOWS: It does. And it is.

SULLIVAN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Laura.

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