11/11/2011 02:33 pm ET | Updated Jan 11, 2012

The Best-Laid Schemes o' Mice an' Men Gang Aft Agley

In politics and life, calamity has a way of sneaking up and messing with even the most carefully-crafted plans. Calamity seems to be particularly on the lookout for hubris; for people who think they have everything pretty well saucered and blowed. Like the Herman Cain campaign: humming along, rising in the polls, everything going pretty well, and then these women start popping up claiming they'd been sexually harassed.

When something like this happens, it's a jolt. But, you have to deal with it head-on to have any chance of getting back on track. Yet, Cain's responses over the last two weeks have been textbook lessons in how not to conduct crisis communication. Even more stunning was his admission that he knew about the story 10 days before it broke. Here's a former corporate CEO who didn't have a plan about what to say or what to do.

The Cain campaign isn't the only political operation that started believing its own press releases. Ohio Governor John Kasich figured he had the momentum following the 2010 election to strip away collective bargaining rights from public employees. And, he was so sure he had the wind at his back that he tried to turn the public against teachers, police officers, firefighters and EMTs by calling them greedy. Ohio voted nearly two to one to kill Kasich's idea. And in the process, Kasich and his anti-union agenda may have given a lot of Democrats and independents a preview of a Republican future as the 2012 presidential election gets closer to the actual voting stage. Oooops!

In Mississippi, anti-choice groups thought this would be the perfect time to deal Roe v. Wade a fatal blow by passing a "personhood" amendment to their state constitution and forcing the whole abortion issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, nearly 60% of the voters in Mississippi apparently agreed with medical science and common sense, and voted that life did not begin at the moment a man says, "Hi. Come here often?" Oooops!

Up in Maine, Republicans in the state legislature thought that momentum would surely propel their idea of curtailing voter registration. So they passed a law ending Maine's 40-year-old practice of allowing people to register to vote as late as Election Day. However, 60% of the voters decided that making it more convenient to register to vote wasn't exactly an attack on the foundations of our democracy. Oooops!

In Phoenix, Arizona, the author of the state's really ugly immigration law that allowed police officers to ask for someone's papers if they happened to be Brown was recalled by voters. State Senator Russell Pearce, President of the State Senate was defeated in the first recall election in the state's history. The senator's belief that his legislation was an absolute masterstroke was fully supported by Arizona's politically astute governor Jan Brewer. However, there's been no announcement yet that she plans to follow him into his earlier-than-expected retirement. Oooops!

These events illustrate the ephemeral nature of political momentum and the dangers of hubris, and they should remind political leaders on both sides that self-righteous certainty about "what the American people want" can wind up biting you on the butt. The public's frequent and frequently-changing dissatisfaction with Washington is not necessarily an undying endorsement of everything you want to do. Often, it's simply an expression of the public's frequent and frequently-changing dissatisfaction with Washington.

Two hundred twenty five years ago, Robert Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley, an' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, for promised joy." If some of our political leaders were less inflated with smug certainty, they'd have little less 'grief an' pain', and a little more 'promised joy.'