The trouble with Herman Cain’s GOP candidacy

Courtland Milloy
Columnist October 11, 2011

If you really listen to what Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is saying, you’ll hear an articulation of views deeply held by many black people. Get an education, work hard, don’t make babies out of wedlock, stay out of jail and trust in God.

Does racism exist? Yes, says Cain, but it doesn’t have to hold you back. Are lack of education and racial isolation to blame for high black unemployment? No doubt about it. Is the economic playing field level for some blacks? Of course it is, and no black person need rely on paternalistic whites to make it in this world.

When speaking at black churches, Cain is sure to get “amens” for saying such things. So you’d figure that if anybody could attract blacks to the Republican Party, this self-proclaimed “strong black man,” a mathematics major at historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta and successful CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, would be the one.

Too bad, then, that behind this alluring black face lurks a GOP that is white and angry and whose ill will toward blacks remains too rabid to ignore. While most of our eyes were on Cain’s strong showing in recent Republican straw polls, for instance, GOP operatives were working overtime devising ways to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

Gerrymandering voting districts, attempting to rig the electoral college, requiring voters to show “official” photo IDs that can cost as much as $100: There seems to be no end to the the political treachery that Republicans will employ in their attempt to defeat President Obama’s bid for reelection.

The result is that many blacks have dismissed Cain’s candidacy as a GOP ploy to deflect accusations that their dastardly deeds reek of racism. And any white support that Cain receives is tainted with that suspicion.

Last month, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said that if Cain somehow managed to get to the White House, “Herman Cain could be our first authentically black president.”

Now if your black grandma had said that, you’d know she meant that Cain sprang from roots sunk deep in the American Black Belt, that his people had made a quantum leap — tried and true — from slavery to freedom. They did this by making sacrifices for the children, passing it forward from one generation to the next. His father worked three jobs — janitor, barber and chauffeur — and his mother worked as domestic help. Their goal: buy a house and send the kids to college. Through patience, hard work, commitment — and the grace of God — they accomplished both.

That’s what grandma means by authentic.

On the other hand, when Limbaugh says it, you know he’s just messing with President Obama — the “birther,” as his fanatical tea party fans insist, the unknown foreigner from Hawaii via Indonesia with the white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya. The inauthentic Obama, that’s what Limbaugh means.

Cain told Fox News recently that, based on the feedback he’s been getting from black folks, he could probably win about a third of the black vote. And if his philosophy and public policy were all that mattered, he probably could.

Although more than 90 percent of black voters call themselves Democrats, about a third fall into a category described by the Pew Research Center as “Hard-Pressed Democrats” and another third are described as “New Coalition Democrats.” These are the most conservative groups of blacks: churchgoing folk who approve of Cain’s evangelical Christian proselytizing; who chuckle when he talks of “building a moat along the southern U.S. border and filling it with alligators” to keep out illegal immigrants and keep them from taking jobs away from blacks; and who favor smaller government and nation building at home rather than abroad.

Adding to Cain’s appeal is his background as a computer engineer and bona fide rocket scientist for the U.S. Navy. As far as black people are concerned, that kind of intellectual prowess is right up there with law professor.

An expert in ballistics, Cain knows how to deliver more than just pizzas.

He also knows that a presidential campaign, like a missile in flight, can hit an ill wind and quickly lose momentum. In his case, it will probably be the racial drag from his own GOP that sends him plummeting back to earth.

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