Herman Cain: the Candidate Who Cried “Liberal Racism”

Apparently, Iowans don’t give a hoot whether or not Herman Cain has ever sexually harassed anyone. A Washington Post poll reports that Cain’s popularity nearly matches Mitt Romney’s, at a rate of 23 percent to 24 percent. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Republicans have stated that the allegations will make no difference in their choice of a candidate.

Iowa, remember, is a state where Cain’s campaign efforts have been notably lax. Closer to home, he’s doing even better. In a recent Rassmussen poll, the native Georgian out-pointed Romney among South Carolinians, 33 percent to 23 percent. Jaded by the escapades of former governor Mark Sandford, Palmetto State Republicans might have a high threshold for the kind of scandal that can be called “alleged” and doesn’t involve the mis-use of public funds.

This is all very well for Cain, but it makes me wonder why — for Pete’s sake, why – he had to defend himself by playing the race card. During a Fox News appearance, when Charles Krauthammer asked whether he believed the allegations had been racially motivated, Cain answered, “yes,” adding, “we have no evidence to support this.”

Cain didn’t elaborate on who, exactly, was exercising a racial grudge — the women who made the allegations, or Politico, for publishing their stories despite their insistence on remaining anonymous. In the Krauthammer interview, he did add: “Relative to the left I believe race is a bigger driving factor. I don’t think it’s a driving factor on the right.”

But one enemy and one camp just won’t do for Cain. He has also accused Rick Perry’s people of orchestrating the scandal, without actually saying whether his race figured among their motives. On the contrary, Cain managed to disclaim his suspicions, at least halfway, when he told Sean Hannity, “Let’s just say, there aren’t enough breadcrumbs that we can lay down that leads us anywhere else at this point.”

That’s some pretty wild spin. It puts the voter in the strange position of hoping that Cain knows how silly he sounds, but also knows that it’s good for business. Rather than focusing exclusively on what he might have done to whom, the media are diverting their attention to the question of why the beans were spilled in the first place. Commentary, though generally partisan, has sometimes been enlightening.

Larry Elder, for example, points out that, in 1988, when Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, the media deferred to his wife‘s request that they sit on stories he‘d strayed. Without saying that liberals — or the media, or even the liberal media — are racist, he does offer one occasion where they gave a pass to a black liberal that they denied to a black conservative. This raises the questions of whether the pre-internet media can really stand comparison to their post-internet descendants; in Salon, Steve Kornacki doubts that Politico’s editorial policy favors Left over Right. Still, Elder provides the reading public with good food for thought.

Unfortunately, voices like Elder’s aren’t the only ones, or even the loudest. All over Fox News and talk radio, conservative pundits are declaring Cain’s drama the second coming of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. Sean Hannity was the first to call it by Thomas’ phrase “high-tech lynch mob.” Rush Limbaugh declared it a “racist hit job.” Laura Ingraham believes liberals are trying to send Cain, “a black man who thinks for himself,” to “the back of the bus.”

In the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg calls this view of events “absurd.” Absurd or not, it represents an stunningy ambitious attempt to flip one of the most powerfully charged scripts in American political discourse. Traditionally, conservatives have dismissed the idea of racial bias as an illusion promoted by liberals in order to gain leverage over blacks and weak-minded whites. Limbaugh himself has plugged this line relentlessly. But here, on the flimsiest of evidence, they’re insisting that, not only is the Right not racist, the Left is. So there. I know you are, but what am I.

If Limbaugh, Hannity, et al are aiming to win over black voters — whose overwhelming preference for the Democratic Party Cain has called the result of “brainwashing” — well, good luck to them. If they’re looking to make Cain’s critics suffer as they have for their own alleged race baiting — for example, when Stephen Colbert ripped Ingraham for projecting an obsessive love of baby-back ribs onto Michelle Obama — that’s understandable. But something tells me they’re going for more than irony here. They want this version of events to become the official, canonical version. They’d love for future generations of American schoolchildren to see a hybrid car and imagine the owners dragging a black person behind it.

It’s hard to say whether Cain buys into this view wholeheartedly. Earlier in his campaign, he went on record saying, “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.” He seemed to be granting a plenary indulgence to Left and Right alike. If, now, he truly means that racism does exist, and is all coming from the Left, then he’s making a bold statement, and a very divisive one.

Compare it with the speech delivered by the future President Obama after it was discovered that his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, had gone so far as to call God’s curse down on America. While assuring audiences that Wright’s opinions were not his own, and condemning “black anger” as “counterproductive,” Obama went out of his way to validate the resentment felt by some white Americans against blacks:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they’re concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

It’s true, Obama did single out “conservative commentators” for dismissing “legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.” But the discrimination itself he presents as bipartisan, or non-partisan — at any rate, a wash.

Say what you like about Obama — the speech was magnificent, and helped as much to get him elected as anything he ever said or did. Cain could stand to learn a lesson from it. Even if he believes his own narrative on race and politics, he ought to consider downplaying it. “Lefties-are-bigots” might resonate with the likes of Limbaugh and Ingraham, but then, their goal is to sell advertising space, not to win elections. If Cain intends seriously to win the presidency, he’d better hire an independent speechwriter…maybe even find a teleprompter.

  • nitnot

    In general, the most persistent racism is in the leftist community. Start with the KKK and work up from there … Bull Connor … Gov. Wallace … the Democrat party worked hard to block 1960′s civil rights legislation; it was actually originated and promoted by Republicans … LBJ signed it reluctantly … and on and on and on. Why the Democrat party pulled civil rights into its bosom is an interesting topic, but not for this moment. But the fundamental racism remains within the leftist community, resulting in today’s situation of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and so forth … look at the real-world results of every leftist initiative within the government … it ends up hurting poor people and minorities the most … ponder that awhile. Moving on to the present, Mr. Cain hasn’t handled the situation as well as he could, but I agree that there is an element of leftist racism at work in the so-called allegations against him … look at what was alleged far more credibly, including names and dates and credible witnesses, against Bill Clinton, and we were assured that it meant nothing important … look at Jesse Jackson, who was forced eventually to acknowledge his out-of-wedlock love child (and he claims to be a clergyman!), and we were assured that it meant nothing important … the difference is that Mr. Cain is a conservative and an African-American … the ultimate hate object for leftists (mmmm, maybe with the exception of Israel) … so smear lustily away is the leftist mantram (pun intended) … just ask Justice Thomas …

  • shelby

    It is popular for republicans to attack the press. Cain got some money doing it. But his ‘popularity’ will be short lived. He has no chance.

  • shelby

    JFK “worked hard” to “block” civil rights? How much more pathetic can the GOP get?

  • miller

    Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University, ballistics mathematician for the Department of the Navy, business analyst for Coca Cola, information technology manager for Pillsbury Company, managed several hundred Burger Kings in the Philadephia area, CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City.

  • Fredbaker

    I cry “liberal and respectable conservative supported white genocide”:

    Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives alike say I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  • David J. White

    In general, the most persistent racism is in the leftist community. Start with the KKK and work up from there … Bull Connor … Gov. Wallace … the Democrat party worked hard to block 1960′s civil rights legislation

    I think it’s more than a bit of a stretch to try to label the Southern Democrats of 50+ years ago as “leftist”.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com Gregmetzger

    Max–once again, thank you for a thoughtful, sane approach. There simply must emerge forums and voices for the common good and for analysis that is focused on that, not cheap partisan points. Without that we are all capable of the kind of strange fact-twisting of Hannity and a few of the people who have left comments. I have written in the past about the “borking of Barack Obama” and I wonder if some of my friends commenting here would not benefit from a look at it:

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    There are some valid points here, but even before this, Cain was savaged by Liberal elites, especially African-American Liberal elites. If he’s a little gun shy, I can see it. But as much as I really like the guy, he’s got not experienced to be president. A second president in a row with no experience is not what the country needs. We don’t want to add to the disaster of the last three years.

  • http://newsnow.news4experts.info/ Burton Hemmann

    Whatever else he is, Herman Cain is certainly the character

  • Dawn Elizabeth Slike

    I like him. He was asked a question; he answered it. Sometimes you go with your gut. And yes, it makes perfect sense these attacks are racially motivated, in the sense that Obama does not want to end up running against another black who is popular for correct reasons — he’s an authentic American.