Herman Cain doesn’t fit snugly into the usual narrative about race and American politics.
It is not merely that the African-American businessman is coming on so strongly in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination.
It is that the bedrock of Cain’s support comes from demographic and ideological groups that are sometimes accused — falsely, they would say — of harboring racist tendencies.
Polls in recent weeks have indicated that Cain has conspicuously strong backing among Republicans in the states of the old Confederacy. He has been a Tea Party darling virtually since the movement’s inception. And, as recently as Friday, he was cheered to the rafters by the deeply conservative, and almost uniformly white, attendees of the Values Voter Summit in Washington.
Has Cain achieved this measure of support by sidestepping issues of race? Hardly.
In his speech announcing his candidacy, back in May, he invoked Martin Luther King Jr. Were he to become president, he said, “we will finally be able to say, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, America is free at last.’”
The line deftly combined a nod to King’s legacy with the suggestion that true freedom for African-Americans would involve shaking off their resilient attachment to the Democratic Party.
Cain made that point more explicitly, and more controversially, when he told CNN late last month that black voters had “been brainwashed into…not even considering a conservative point of view.” A furor ensued.
At Friday’s Values Voter Summit, one of the lines in his speech that attracted wild applause came when he related how a reporter had asked him whether he was “angry” about America, given the historic injustices meted out to African-Americans.
“I said, ‘Sir, you don’t get it,’” Cain told the crowd. “‘I have achieved all of my American dreams and then some because of the greatest nation, the United States of America.’”
It is no surprise that Cain’s candidacy is seen in fundamentally different ways, even within the ranks of black political commentators.
According to radio host and Tea Party activist David Webb, Cain’s candidacy has already made it easier for African-Americans to see the appeal of conservative ideas. Webb asserted that people like Cain and himself “help open up the discussion and bring down the stereotype” of unstinting allegiance to the Dems.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the author of several books on the African-American experience, has a very different interpretation.
“The GOP has over a long period of time developed a very articulate handful of black conservatives – to, firstly, pound not just civil rights leaders but liberal Democrats generally; and, secondly, to create the illusion that there is a huge capacity among African-Americans to embrace the tenets of conservatism,” he said.
If Cain were to go on and win the GOP nomination this could be very interesting. Obama and the Democrats will have difficulty playing the race card (even though they’ll still try) and if Cain breaks the Democratic stranglehold on black voters then Donna Brazile’s dream of a new coalition will go up in smoke.
I’m not endorsing Herman Cain. He’s a conservative and I’m not. I don’t like any of the current candidates in either party. There are only two people I would actively support but neither of them is running.
So unless something changes one cf the current candidates is going to be POTUS for the next four year term. Since they are all far more conservative than me (including Obama) I am looking past their ideology and judging them on character and competence.
Based on what I have seen so far I think I could hold my nose and vote for Cain. And an Obama vs. Cain match-up will be far more entertaining than Obama vs. Romney.