Two Saturdays ago, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain floated an idea to dramatically curb illegal immigration: build an electrified fence along the US-Mexico border that could kill people who try to cross it. The next day, he told NBC's David Gregory that he was joking. That Monday, he reverted to his original proposal after a summit with Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. On Tuesday, at the GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, Cain reiterated that he had been joking, but he refused to dismiss the idea of constructing an electrified barrier across the length of the border.
So could the United States really build an electrified fence along the entire length of the Mexican border? And how much would it cost?
First off, you'd have to build lots of fences. Dale Stoutenburg, mechanical technician with Gallagher Security—a multinational fence manufacturer that provides electrified barriers for ports, corrections facilities, and ranches—says the company is capable of building fences up to 75 miles long. If nothing else, they're pretty easy to power—given that the southern border is a desert, solar panels would provide a self-sufficient energy source. Stoutenburg says a panel the size of a big-screen TV could power a 50-mile stretch of 3,000-volt fence.
But from there, things quickly get complicated. Generally speaking, electrified security fences aren't designed to provide a lethal shock. "We refer to it as a 'safe but memorable' pulse; you don't want to attempt to climb it, but it's safe," says Nathan Leaphart, CFO of Electric Guard Dog, a South Carolina-based company that makes perimeter electric security fences. "Really, the lethal electric fence market is extremely small. To my understanding it's only for like maximum security prison-type situations. Occasionally, will see it on the local news, but frankly no one's ever asked me to build one."
On Thursday, I defended Herman Cain from the trumped-up charges that he is actually, secretly, pro-choice. Cain had answered a question, from CNN's Piers Morgan, about whether he supported exceptions for rape and the life of the mother, and said that while he opposed abortion even in those circumstances, it wasn't the government's job to tell women what to do. That's not the kind of thing that would endear Cain to NARAL; it's the same position taken by noted reproductive rights icon George W. Bush, among others. Even the activists behind the Mississippi Personhood amendment say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to get an abortion if her life is at risk—even if the actual language of the amendment wouldn't allow for it.
Besides, Cain has a pretty consistent track record of condemning abortion. In March, he called Planned Parethood "Planned Genocide," alleging that the nation's largest abortion provider was deliberately targeting blacks for extermination. In 2006, he ran a radio ad campaign targeting Democrats for their support for abortion rights, and proudly noting that the Republican Party calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade in its official platform. And in 2004, when he was running for Senate in Georgia, he put out the following statement, on the anniversary of Roe, which should eliminate any remaining confusion on where he stands:
Now that Herman Cain is officially a front-runner for the Republican nomination, the vetting process has picked up in a hurry. TheAtlantic's Conor Friedersdorf stumbled upon a treasure trove of syndicated columns the Atlanta businessman wrote between 2006 and 2009, which doesn't do much to shatter the perception of Cain as a loose cannon (he refers to Iraq war opponents as "Hezbocrats" and calls them "the enemy").
But I was drawn to a different piece: A 2006 column from Cain on Islam that copiously cites the work of Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley—the same pastor whose Islamophobic writings and sermons would later force Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to reject his endorsement. Parsley, as MoJo's David Corn first reported in 2008, argued that American Christians have an obligation to destroy Islam. Cain, though, saw Parsley not as a polarizing religious figure, but rather as an expert on Middle Eastern affairs:
Nia-Malika Henderson reports that in an interview with Piers Morgan last night, Herman Cain seemed to waiver on what he'd do about abortion if elected president:
What it comes down to. It's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you're not talking about that big a number. So what I'm saying is, it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president. Not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family, and whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn't have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.
Is Herman Cain—gasp!—secretly pro-choice? Was he merely practicing Taqiyya when he cut those radio ads back in 2006 suggesting there was a racial motive to Democrats' support for abortion, and back in 2004, when he ran for US Senate in Georgia on a platform that abortion was wrong even in cases of rape and incest?
At the Values Voters Summit earlier this month, Rick Perry and his sputtering campaign got plenty of attention—but not for the reasons the candidate would have liked. It was the Texas governor's association with a controversial religious leader that made headlines, after Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor who introduced (and endorsed) Perry at the event, said that conservative voters should reject Mitt Romney because he belongs to a "cult" (the Mormon church).
It wasn't the first time Perry shared a staged with a controversial religious figure. Perry has long cultivated ties to evangelical leaders who hold extreme views, including Rod Parsley, an Ohio megachurch pastor whose incendiary comments about Islam—he said it must be "destroyed"—forced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to disavow Parsley's endorsement during the 2008 presidential race.
The relationship between Perry and Parsley began in 2005, when Perry held a special signing ceremony for two new measures of importance to religious conservatives: a law that required parental consent for teenage girls to obtain abortions, and a constitutional amendment, which was up for a vote that November, to ban gay marriage. Perry booked a Fort Worth Christian school for the occasion and invited social conservative leaders—including Parsley—to attend the event.