On my first day at an all-white school in North Plainfield, N.J., and then again in Hazlet, N.J. and then again before I took off for college in Northfield, Minn., my mother delivered a lecture not unfamiliar to other kids of color (and women, for that matter). You have to work twice as hard and be twice as good to not be seen as inferior, deficient and not as up to the task (whatever the task might be) as your white classmates. It ain’t right. It ain’t fair. But that’s the way it is.

On a near-daily basis, Herman Cain, the front runner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, denigrates the high level of expectation and preparation demanded by my mother and mothers everywhere. And with each ill-fated utterance he has me saying, “C’mon, man!” A phrase that drips with a you-should-know-better disappointment, because he is profoundly unprepared for the stage upon which he struts (and sings).

Cain came up with his overly simplistic “9-9-9” tax plan and then had a hard time explaining it. On “Meet the Press.” At the Las Vegas debate two days later. He complained that critics hadn’t read the whole plan or that they didn’t know about the “opportunity zones” to help the poor. Once he revealed those plans, the vigorously defended “9-9-9” plan became “9-0-9” — and still made no sense.

Cain proudly proclaims — in rhyme, no less — that he’s “pro-life at conception no abortions no exceptions.” Yet, when pressed on cases of rape or incest he says 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 then he spends a week indignantly explaining himself because pro-life conservatives clobber him over the field of daylight between what they believe and what he said.

Cain wears his conservative credentials as a badge of honor. Yet, when asked by “Meet The Press” moderator David Gregory whether he would describe himself as a neo-conservative in his foreign policy views, Cain said, “I’m not familiar with the neo-conservative movement.” Some other things with which he’s not familiar include not knowing that China already has nuclear weapons.

Even more galling is his willingness to revel in his own ignorance. Listen to what he said when asked by David Brody of CBN News if he were ready for “gotcha” questions from the media.

Brody: Are you ready for the gotcha questions that are coming from the media and others? Like who’s the president of Uzbekistan? It’s coming. All of this stuff and how are you dealing with that?
Cain: I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’ And then I’m going to say, “How’s that going to create one job?”

Conservatives who think “our blacks are better than their blacks” should be appalled. His answer was as unacceptable as it was ignorant.

Sarah Palin was rightly eviscerated for her lack of knowledge on just about everything when she was the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee. She didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was. Even though she’s pro-life, she told Katie Couric that she believed there was a right to privacy in the Constitution, which is a cornerstone of Roe. v. Wade. And she tried to claim foreign policy experience because “as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s right over the border.”

That Cain can’t even rise above this decidedly low bar set by Palin is an insult to my mother, who demands excellence of “us,” and to every American who believes his or her nation deserves better from those who would lead it.