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In June, Newsweek put Mitt Romney's head on a prancing Broadway dancer's body under the headline, "The Mormon Moment." In August, the magazine put a photo of Michele Bachmann -- looking off camera and absolutely insane -- on the cover under the headline, "The Queen of Rage." This week, it's giving the cover treatment to Herman Cain -- but instead of looking foolish, like his poor presidential rivals, Cain is pictured with a winning smile and a thumbs up under the headline "Yes We Cain!" Cain, it appears, is the only Republican candidate that Newsweek takes seriously.

The Romney story is mostly about how great his religion is -- and what a pity it is that the candidate isn't doing more to defend it. It's a shame, Walter Kirn writes, that Romney fights against his personal disadvantages -- "To thaw his icy persona, Romney passed out his 'famous' family chili and surrounded himself with bales of hay" -- except for Americans' reluctance to embrace his faith. But Bachmann and Cain got vastly different treatment. To Newsweek, Bachmann's ideology has "inherent contradictions." Her Tea Party allies "just brought Washington to a standstill and the nation on the brink of default." She's forced to deny she represents "unhinged anger." And Iowa voters "don't fuss about the missing fine print behind her ideas, the perceived contradictions among them, or their radicalism." Cain, meanwhile, has a life story that's "a rich illustration of the American Dream." He "was a diligent young man, with a quietly defiant attitude toward Jim Crow and strong religious convictions from early on." He speaks with "perfectly structured oratory without benefit of so much as a notecard and unmarred by so much as a stammer." Referring to his faith, Cain "and the Holy Spirit are off to the next whistle-stop in America's most fascinating campaign."

On the issues:
Bachmann: Bachmann's conservatism is portrayed as a scary plan to pull out the safety net under poor Americans walking the tightrope of the shaky economy:
At a time of population growth, increasing health-care costs, swelling ranks of retirees, and a sharp and prolonged economic slump -- all of which point to the need for increases in federal spending just to meet government's existing obligations -- Bachmann and her Tea Party allies demand that Washington spend less. But they don't just demand that spending increase less from year to year than previously planned ... Rather, Bachmann and the Tea Party go much further ...
 
That means, of course, that its commitments would have to shrivel as well. In the Tea Party's ideal vision of America, large federal agencies and federal programs would be dismantled and the savings redirected to states with block grants and individuals through lower taxes. Whether that would leave people at the mercy of the freewheeling (and often treacherous) marketplace remains an open and untested question.
Cain: Cain wants everything Bachmann wants -- but more. Cain's far more radical proposal -- to wipe out the current tax code and replace it with a 9 percent sales tax plus a 9 percent tax on personal and corporate income -- is seen as kind of adorable.
He also contests the widely held opinion that 9-9-9 would be onerous to the 30 million Americans who make so little they currently pay zero in income tax. Cain insists his math has proved otherwise, then asks, "How do you define poor? I define poor [as] you have no money to eat and you have no shelter," he says. "That's poor."
 
For the sake of discussion, he agrees to consider the government's definition, which he figures to be about $15,000 in annual income. He proposes that even the 9 percent sales tax would not be an undue burden on the poor because it applies only to "new stuff."
 
"[The poor] can't even buy new shoes," he says, adding, "Are you going to buy filet mignon or hamburger? People who have a small amount of money learn to stretch that money."
 
He manages to say this without seeming the slightest bit coldhearted.
The argument that a sales tax wouldn't hurt poor people who need to buy shoes because they can't afford shoes in the first place -- not the slightest bit coldhearted.
 
On God:
Cain: Authors Michael Daly and David A. Graham describe a Tea Party event at Ohio Christian University, in which can'ts speech has "the feel of a revival meeting." 
[Cain gives] what he later calls "a hybrid of the speech and sermon," perfectly structured oratory without benefit of so much as a notecard and unmarred by so much as a stammer. He tells the crowd that he had intended to cite one passage of Scripture, but the Holy Spirit had intervened to guide him to another.
 
"Proverbs, Chapter 9, Verse 9," he says.
 
The crowd instantly gets the joke, laughing at the reference to 9-9-9. The flash of humor makes Cain appear less a zealot and more a candidate capable of charming the mainstream. It’s a common reaction: Cain seems to get people laughing in the best way wherever he goes, in happy contrast to the stiff Romney.
Bachmann: Bachmann's religiosity, by contrast, is far more suspect. Her faith, Lois Romano speculates, could cause her trouble later in the election:
There's no telling if Republican primary voters will reward such intransigence. Even within the Tea Party itself, Bachmann is a polarizing figure. Many -- especially in Iowa, with its high percentage of evangelical Christians -- respond rapturously to her combination of antigovernment fervor and religiously inspired moral traditionalism on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But others are more consistent in their distaste for governmental meddling. For Matt Welch, editor in chief of the libertarian Reason magazine, Bachmann isn’t the "queen of the Tea Party." In fact, he says, "she will have trouble" with its rank and file "if she's seen as being more concerned about social issues" than cutting the federal budget.
On their ideological roots:
Bachmann: The Minnesotan's life story is presented in a way that makes her seem alien. The details that she once campaigned for Jimmy Carter before deciding that her principles were more in line with the Republican Party are omitted. Instead, there's this scary retro-sexism:
Married in 1979, Bachmann raised five children in Stillwater, Minn., and eventually fostered 23 kids. She has said her husband directed her to study tax law, and she obliged because "the Lord says: be submissive, wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands." Asked about her choice of words, she explains, "That means that I respect my husband, and he respects me." But in a Bachmann White House, she adds, "I would be the decision maker."
Cain: Newsweek explains that Cain became a Republican because one time a a guy was rude to him. This is considered a charming sign of authenticity. Cain relates a story when Jack Kemp, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, invited him to the Harlem restaurant Sylvia's because Kemp said he needed to "take some of my black friends."
At Sylvia's, an African-American man who was one of a group of Democrats said something like, "There's no such thing as a black Republican. You guys must be Uncle Toms."
 
The Cain who had worked so hard to make his own way was deeply offended.
 
"I said nobody had a right to tell me how to think and how to vote," he says. "I was so adamant that I registered as a Republican."
 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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