It’s been a good month to be Atlanta’s own Herman Cain.
As May began, Cain was declared the clear winner of South Carolina’s GOP presidential debate. Last week, a Zogby interactive poll of Republican primary voters put Cain in second place, behind only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who isn’t even running. And at the Georgia Republican Convention in Macon over the weekend, Cain basked in cheers and standing ovations that dwarfed those drawn by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
But for all the fervor, let’s be honest: Cain is not a legitimate candidate for president.
That doesn’t mean Cain should be dismissed or ignored. Quite the contrary; he’s important because he is giving voice to the fears and resentment of millions of Americans who see this country and their place in it diminished by powers beyond their control. His support is drawn from the same part of the GOP base that once embraced Sarah Palin and, briefly, Donald Trump. Like Palin and Trump, Cain may not be well-versed on policy, but he knows what he knows, and he’s willing to put it bluntly:
“The objective of the liberals is to destroy this country,” he told a conservative conference in Washington in February. “The objective of the liberals is to make America mediocre. … That’s their objective. Well, let me tell you something about mediocrity. It’s not in an American’s DNA to be mediocre.”
To Americans worried that their country might be losing its status as an economic and military superpower — a fear that’s all too justified — such words resonate. However, it is not the rhetoric of a man capable of becoming president. It is the rhetoric of a talk-radio host, armed with the one-liners, pat answers and applause lines honed by sitting night after night at the microphone.
As Rush Limbaugh put it after watching the South Carolina debate, “Herman Cain made me think I was listening to me in every answer.”
As his backers are quick to point out, Cain is more than a radio talker. He enjoyed a successful corporate career, rising to CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and serving as chair of the Federal Reserve Board in Kansas City. While that’s impressive, politics and business are very different fields. Michael Jordan was the best basketball player in history, but as athletic as he was, he couldn’t hit a curve ball. At the top echelons of any endeavor, skill sets don’t transfer easily.
Finally, there’s the added dimension of Cain’s race. Conservatives are not merely proud to be seen as supporting a black man for president, some see his race as a club to be used to bludgeon their opponents. Cain understands that aspect of his appeal, and he’s not shy about milking it.
In that February speech, as in many of his speeches, Cain sympathized with fellow conservatives for being “called racist simply because you disagree with the president, who happens to be black.”
“Well, I got a breaking news announcement for you,” Cain told them. “You are not a racist; you are patriots because you’re willing to stand up for what you believe in. Patriots.”
Like Cain, blogger Andrew Breitbart has risen to prominence thanks to a willingness to voice what traditional conservative leaders will not. And he makes no bones about embracing Cain as a way to blow the minds of those who label conservatives as racist. He even envisions Allen West, an extremely conservative black congressman from Florida who also was raised here in Atlanta, as Cain’s 2012 running mate.
“That ticket would blow up the death star of political correctness that the left uses against the right,” he said, and it’s hard to argue that point.
In fact, the only thing more surreal than a black Atlantan heading the GOP ticket would be two black Atlantans heading the GOP ticket.
– Jay Bookman