Herman Cain will probably not be the next president of the United States. Notice that I carefully used the words “probably not,” instead of the words “definitely not.” Many of us made the same mistake when another black man, Barack Obama, took his shot at the throne just a few years ago.
The truth is that Cain has a serious chance to win the Republican nomination. If you win the nomination, then you’ve got a chance to win the election. President Obama is certainly flying high with approval ratings through the roof after killing both Osama bin Laden and what was left of Donald Trump’s reputation, all in the same week, but a great deal can change between now and 2012.
One of Cain’s great dangers is that everyone seems to like him. A recent Gallup Poll rated Cain to be the most likable of all Republican candidates. While he lacks the name recognition of his opponents, all of that can be easily fixed by any millionaire willing to spend money on campaign ads. The Tea Partiers also love Cain, voting him their leading candidate in a straw poll at The American Policy Summit, a Tea Party gathering spot. Yes, they are controversial, but the Tea Partiers have shown that they can change the face of American politics.
Here’s the other crazy kicker that makes Herman Cain so dangerous: A lot of black people identify with him. Now, a lot of black people don’t like Republicans, we all know that. But the truth is that nearly every church-going black family in America has an uncle just like Herman Cain — the well-educated middle/upper class man who hates welfare, doesn’t believe in abortion, doesn’t want higher taxes, is angry about health care reform and politely tells all gay people that they are going to hell. In fact, many of my older relatives identify with Herman Cain more than they identify with me.
Most interestingly, Herman Cain is a Morehouse man who receives a great deal of respect from African-Americans for his tremendous success in corporate America. No different from Bob Johnson at BET, black people tend to think you’re amazing if you’ve got a lot of money, no matter how you earned it. In spite of the fact that Cain actually supported Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, the truth is that he can’t simply be written off as an “Uncle Tom”. He is no less legitimate as a Morehouse man than Martin Luther King Jr. himself.
With popular Republicans such as former governor Mike Huckabee, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Donald Trump bowing out of the election, Cain has the opportunity to take his appeal to the next level. It will be interesting to see if those on the far right truly have the stomach to treat Cain with decency, rather than throwing him under the bus as they did Michael Steele. We all know that if Cain deviates even a bit from traditional Republican platforms (as did Colin Powell), he will be the target of right wing lynch mobs only reserved for black Republicans who don’t know their place. He won’t have the same latitude for reconsideration afforded other leading Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Some conservatives are open to the idea of a black man giving orders, as long as he tells them to do what they were already planning to do in the first place.
Whether we like it or not, Herman Cain is expanding the definition of what it means to be black in America. He reminds us that the divides in America are driven more by wealth and class than by race or gender. America is more capitalist than it is racist, sexist or homophobic, so it is no surprise that even Sarah Palin went out of her way to mention how much she loves Herman Cain.
In case you’re wondering, there is no way on earth that I would support Herman Cain for president. But my opposition to Cain has nothing to do with me thinking that he’s somehow betrayed his race. Instead, it is my advocacy for progressive thought, racial equality and protection of the poor that leads me to believe that Cain is not the right man to run the country.
Unfortunately, quite a few members of the black community could care less about the poor and are so conservative that they’d rather see the nation become a dictatorship. This is one reason that Cain’s candidacy, if couched in the right terminology, could threaten to crack the long-term love affair between African-Americans and the Democratic Party.
Not every black person is poor and liberal, and many of them sit down with their own version of Herman Cain for Sunday dinner every single week. While I humbly (and perhaps even myopically) stick to the words “probably not,” the truth is that Herman Cain has the chance to reshape America.