Herman Cain: The Alternate-Reality Candidate?

The insurgent 2012 candidate and former Godfather's Pizza CEO appears to have taken two proposals from fictional worlds

Herman Cain 1 - Jonathan Ernst Reuters - banner.jpg

When Herman Cain shot to the top of GOP presidential primary polling, it just didn't feel right.

Cain doesn't strike us as a real politician, and he constantly says he's not a politician at all. He blusters about the stupid people ruining America. He used to run a pizza company and has never held public office. So when NBC and The Wall Street Journal found him leading Mitt Romney by four percent, it felt like the 2012 race had morphed into an episode of "Sliders." When will Jerry O'Connell change the channel and reinstall a career politician as Romney's co-front-runner? Something has to be wrong.

Maybe our confusion has something to do with the way elements of Cain's platform echo portrayals of fictional universes.

Cain's 9-9-9 plan, as The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel has pointed out, may or may not have been inspired by Sim City the fourth edition of which (2003) featured a nine percent income tax, nine percent corporate tax, and nine percent sales tax as the default tax plan for Sim citizens.

He's also been promoting, for some time, an electrified fence on the U.S./Mexico border.

"It's going to be 20 feet high. It's going to have barbed wire on the top. It's going to be electrified. And there's going to be a sign on the other side saying, 'It will kill you -- Warning,'" Cain told an audience in Tennessee on Saturday.

Cain clarified on "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the electrified-fence idea is a joke, but TalkingPointsMemo's Benjy Sarlin noted today that the proposal was also made by Robert DeNiro's character in the 2010 Robert Rodriguez film "Machete," in which DeNiro played anti-immigration Texas state senator in league with vigilantes:

Maybe all of this is a sign that Cain will win the GOP nomination. People don't like politicians anyway, and there's a reason mass entertainment culture is truly mass: Most of the country would rather play Sim City or watch "Machete" than listen to an entire Republican presidential debate.

If Cain truly signifies an alternate-reality presence in the GOP race, one of two things can happen: 1) Cain will make Romney appear even more real by comparison, delivering the nomination to the former governor, or 2) Cain will infect the "real" political universe with fictional narratives that take root and, in becoming popular, come true -- Cain will win the nomination, at which point a portal will open connecting us to a parallel world ruled by charismatic anti-politicians with simple and catchy tax plans.

Yep, one of those will happen, I'm pretty sure.

Image credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters