Businessman, talk show host and political activist Herman Cain was the runaway winner in a presidential straw poll at the Tea Party weekend summit in Phoenix this February. Tea Party leaders almost to a person said Cain “resonated” with them because he embodied what they want to see for the country, and race had nothing to do with their choice of him to be their 2012 presidential standard bearer.
The pick and subsequent gushing over Cain is a carbon copy of the ancient ploy of ultra-conservatives. They handpick an African-American, shower him or her with praise, make them a fixture on conservative talk shows, give them carte blanche in newspaper columns, spotlight them at their dinners and banquets, and shove bushels of right wing think tank dollars into their pockets. During the Reagan years, a small but noisy clique of black conservatives, including Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Alan Keyes, were cultivated and hyped up as authentic black thinkers, activists, and political leaders. There were two requirements they had to fulfill to maintain their position as conservative darlings. The first was to criticize welfare, corporate taxes, government spending (sans military spending), abortion and gay rights. The second was to relentlessly attack civil rights organizations, leaders, and programs. In 2007, a third rite of passage was added. That was to assail then Democratic presidential candidate Obama, and in 2008, following his election to ratchet up the vitriol.
The election of Michael Steele as RNC chair in 2009 was a thinly disguised effort by GOP conservatives to shove a black man into a high profile, top political spot as a counter to Obama. Steele was a conservative who could be relied on to nitpick and ridicule all of Obama’s policies and programs. And since the attacks came from another black man who could say that there was even a trace of racial animus in the attacks? It was just politics, nothing more.
It didn’t really work with Steele. His profligate spending, penchant for controversy, shoot-from-the-lips quips, and media hogging, simply ticked off to many within the party. He had to go, and he did. But the pattern didn’t change; namely hunt up a dependable, core of fresh black faces who could be quickly elevated to national media prominence, gushed over at party confabs, praised for their willingness to attack civil rights leaders, liberal Democrats, and of course President Obama.
The 2010 mid-term elections and the aftermath was a racial treasure trove for the GOP and Tea Party. They got not one, not two, but three telegenic, articulate, media and politically savvy African-Americans. Allen West, Tim Scott and now Cain can all pump out the standard line: that big government, high taxes, and fiscal irresponsibility by tax and spend Democrats are evils that Americans, and that includes African-Americans, should be up in arms about. They will hammer on these themes, and along the way hammer Obama, with little risk that their Obama-bashing can be construed as a thinly disguised cover to vent and spew racism against the president.
West, Scott and Cain, and a handful of avowedly black conservative groups almost certainly will be pushed even more front and center in the media and in conservative political circles as election 2012 heats up. West was cheered wildly at the Conservative Political Action Conference and hailed as the paragon of political sense on taxes, spending, and meat axing alleged too expansive government domestic programs. Cain makes even more sense for the Tea Party. He is the ready answer to anyone who still slams the movement as racist. He gives the Tea Party luster as a conservative group that has absolutely no qualms about making an African-American its titular standard bearer.
Cain has burnished his credentials as the perfect foil to Obama, and the answer to those who call the Tea Party racist. In his speech to at the Tea Party summit, he boasted that he had the guts and moxie to tell Bill Clinton to his face at a public meeting during the 1993 health care debate that he thought government involvement in health care management was a rotten idea. Since then he’s made a virtual one man crusade out of pushing for a national sales tax to radically reduce reliance on federal taxes. Nevermind that a fair tax would be anything but fair, and would be a regressive tax that would hurt small wage earners who will pay the same for goods and services as the wealthy. Or that the absence of any government role in health care would leave tens of thousands more to the un-tender mercies of the private health care market, and insure that tens of millions including millions of lower income whites would remain without any access to affordable health care.
No matter, Cain, West and Scott today, and small legion of black conservatives from days gone by give conservative’s cachet without ever challenging the racism that still pulses underneath of what passes as conservatism. That’s their job.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on ktym.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson