6 Things to Know About "Smoking Man" in Herman Cain's Weird New Ad (Dude Was Banned From Electoral Politics)
There's a Cancer Man on the body politic.
Herman Cain, the former Americans for Prosperity operative, and his presidential campaign manager, Mark Block, are having a most excellent adventure with Cain's faux presidential candidacy, an endeavor apparently launched, as AlterNet has reported, as a Koch-supported venture designed to bring the other GOP presidential candidates around to David Koch's way of thinking on matters such as taxes and regulations.
Today's YouTube unveiling of a truly strange video (seen at the bottom of this post), "paid for by Friends of Herman Cain," gives a hint of the sort of lark the two seem to think they are on, as they play with taboos and perhaps seek to mock their critics with what some believe to be a reference drawn from the "X Files" -- in which Block plays the figure of the Cigarette Smoking Man, a.k.a., Cancer Man. The ad appears only on a YouTube channel, but not on Cain's official presidential campaign Web site.
In the ad, Block, in a series of close-ups set against a stone wall, uneasily spouts some common campaign-style pablum before bringing a cigarette to his lips as the camera pulls in tighter. The camera then lingers a bit after Block takes the cigarette from his lip, which trembles a bit before the editing cuts to a shot of Cain slowly breaking into a sly, sideways grin. (The Raw Story's Megan Carpentier suggests the the ad may have been made by a Breitbart associate.)
Critics of Block, beginning with this one, have described him as having his fingers in several messy pies. AlterNet's reporting on Block over the course of the last year has revealed him to be a key player in the takeover of the Wisconsin legislature by Tea Party candidates and the election of Gov. Scott Walker. But more than that, we've shown him to be a dirty player on the Wisconsin political scene, and one whose efforts involve a web of entities and local groups. The "X Files" character, the main antagonist to FBI agent Mulder, had access not only to higher-ups in government, but also represented the nefarious Syndicate that constituted the show's Bad Guys. (And we know how much right-wingers love the FBI -- even less than left-wingers.)
I have no idea if that was what Block and Cain are getting at with their smoking moment; the "X Files" conjecture could be too smart by half. Perhaps they simply meant to shock in order to win another day of media coverage. Perhaps they're looking for some superpac money from tobacco companies. Maybe they're just trying to appeal to working-class folks, whom them presume to be smokers who don't like to be told not to smoke. But whatever they're doing no doubt constitutes some kind of gleeful fun-poking in their heads, which are no doubt swollen by the stupendous poll numbers Cain is enjoying: The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows Cain as clear frontrunner among the GOP presidential contenders, with 25 percent, compared to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 21 percent.
Block may live to regret his moment of hubris. Until now, he's been one of those shady, behind-the-scenes kind of players, and that shadiness has been one source of his power. In the light of day, he may fare less well. Here are five things, gleaned from AlterNet's reporting, that Block likely doesn't want you to know about him:
- Banned from Wisconsin politics for three years in 2002 and paid a $15,000 fine for illegal campaign activities on behalf of a candidate for the state Supreme Court - Before Americans For Prosperity was a gleam in David Koch's eye, Mark Block was getting himself into trouble flouting Wisconsin's campaign laws. As AlterNet reported in June:
Block's first day at Americans for Prosperity marked the expiration of three-year ban on political campaign involvement imposed on him by a Wisconsin court for his illegal activity in a 2001 election... Block's triumph as campaign manager for Judge Jon Wilcox's successful run for state Supreme Court was tempered by a $15,000 fine for illegally using an outside group, the Wisconsin Citizens for Voter Participation, to conduct campaign activities.
- Involved in vote-caging scheme in Milwaukee during the 2010 midterm elections designed to suppress votes of college students and African-Americans. More from our June report:
In late 2010, the liberal advocacy group, One Wisconsin Now, caught a Tea Party organizer on tape discussing Block's role in a vote-caging scheme apparently designed to suppress voter turnout in two Milwaukee districts that are heavily populated by college students and African Americans.
Vote-caging is a technique whereby registered voters are sent letters marked "do not forward" so letters that are undeliverable at the residence to which they're addressed bounce back to the sender. The returned letters are then used by the sender to challenge the votes of those individuals at her or his polling place, meaning that person can only vote on a provisional ballot. The letters were sent by Block's Americans for Prosperity chapter, many to dormitory addresses in August -- a time when students would likely be between dorm assignments.
- Lied to newspaper reporter, denying that Americans For Prosperity, a Block's direction, did the initial mailing for the vote-cage scheme. As we reported five months ago:
At first, Block denied any involvement in the scheme, until Tim Dake of the Tea Party group, Grandsons of Liberty, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had personally spoken to Block about it. Block then conceded that AFP had done the mailing, but said they had abandoned the effort when too few letters were returned.
- Behind the Koch-linked workplace indoctrination program, Prosperity 101 - AlterNet, in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, produced an exposé on Prosperity 101, a program conducted in workplaces -- the majority of them in Wisconsin -- during the campaign season for the 2010 midterm elections. The program was used by employers, who brought employees together in seminars to tell them that policies traditionally embraced by Democrats -- such as environmental protection, higher tax rates for millionaires and the like -- would ultimately cost them their jobs. Block recruited Herman Cain -- who dubbed it the right's "answer to ACORN" -- to serve as a frontman for the program. (The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore also huckstered the scheme.)
- Denied involvement in Prosperity 101 when questioned by AlterNet. However, AlterNet had a voice recording of Cain saying he had been recruited to Prosperity 101 by Block.
- "Main organizer" of the Wisconsin Prosperity Network, a sort of coalition-in-a box devised to create electoral pressure for the Tea Party gains made in Wisconsin in 2010.
Below, find the video of the Block/Cain ad, and a transcript.
Mark Block here. Since January, I've had the privilege of being the chief of staff to Herman Cain, and chief operating officer of the Friends of Herman Cain.
Tomorrow is one day closer to the White House. I really believe that Herman Cain will put 'United' back in the United States of America, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here. We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen. But, then, America's never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved, because together we can do this. We can take this country back.
[CUT TO CLOSE UP OF BLOCK TAKING A DRAG FROM A CIGARETTE, THEN LINGERS AS HIS LIP TREMBLES.]
[CUT TO CLOSE UP OF CAIN ISSUING SIDELONG SMILE]
Paid for by Friends of Herman Cain.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO blog.