Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
Don’t purchase your tickets to a Herman Cain inaugural ball just yet.
In a dismal Republican field for the 2012 presidential nomination, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza has often done better in straw polls and at debates than his more well-known challengers. A recent poll from Iowa showed him coming in third behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
His surprising showing has led some to speculate that he could be the sleeper candidate arising from nowhere to miraculously seize the nomination or even the presidency.
But ultimately his unimaginative agenda, inexperience and extremist positions are likely to create insurmountable obstacles. And whether Cain, an African-American, wants to acknowledge it or not, race does matter.
Cain favors lower taxes, a repeal of Obama’s health care bill, elimination of the capital gains tax, spending cuts and other standard Republican ideas. He is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and thinks homosexuality is a sin.
He may state his views more articulately than Sarah Palin, with more vigor than Tim Pawlenty, and with equal bombast as Newt Gingrich, but in the end he goes nowhere new or compelling.
Where he does stand out is with his egregious views regarding Muslims. Cain has a long record of bias and baseless statements against Islam. Despite laws on the books prohibiting religious discrimination and his own experience growing up under racial segregation, when asked would he be comfortable appointing a Muslim to either his cabinet or as a federal judge, Cain replied, “I will not.”
The firestorm ignited by that remark in March caused Cain to attempt to backtrack. It wasn’t long, however, before he repeated the remark and defended his antagonism toward the entire Islamic religion.
Cain’s inability to spin his way out of trouble reflects also his inexperience in politics. He has never been elected to a political office and the one time he did run for the U.S. Senate, he was crushed by his opponent.
Sadly, Cain continues the deplorable tradition of exploiting his race while professing to be colorblind. Like many GOP black conservatives, he banks on his blackness. Cain has even stated that he is a “real black man” compared to Obama, implying that his upbringing in segregated Georgia gives him a special dispensation around blackness that the latter does not possess.
Similar to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was also raised under Georgia’s apartheid system, Cain seems to define “real” blackness by the degree of one’s experience with racial venom and ostracizing. And in his view, black support for Democrats is tantamount to refusing to leave the plantation rather than a rational choice based on the actual policies presented by the two major parties.
Cain provides a useful veneer for the overt racial animosity that has manifest itself against Obama over the last two years — especially at the Republican base. This anger coincides with a recent Harvard/Tufts study that reveals whites feel they are more discriminated against than blacks.
The irony is that Cain’s blackness, which he trumpets consistently, may be one more reason he’ll have difficulty winning the Republican nomination.
Clarence Lusane is program director/associate professor at the Comparative and Regional Studies Program in the International Service at American University
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