Herman Cain’s This is Herman Cain! (the exclamation point is included), subtitled “My Journey to the White House,” is flying off the virtual shelves at Amazon.com. And the candidate is spending considerable time promoting it, sometimes instead of campaigning for president.
The book tells the story of Cain’s family and journey to becoming what he calls a “CEO of Self,” and the inspiration behind his decision to run for the nation’s highest office. In the process, however, Cain tells some stories that people may find surprising, or unsettling. Particularly on personal matters, Cain comes through in the book as only lightly introspective. He doesn’t delve deeply into his personal feelings at times when he or his family face racism. And he very quickly runs through the history of his family’s darker moments, spending much more time and energy detailing his business triumphs.
Cain does devote a chapter to beating stage four colon and liver cancer (he saw the necessity of doctors performing a “J-cut” to remove the cancer from both organs as a sign from J-E-S-U-S … because Jesus starts with “J”…) and he even includes a poem about his grand-daughter. But for the most part, Cain’s biography is all about business (and constant salesmanship of a single product: Herman Cain.)
Here are the ten most interesting moments from the book:
1. Cain lived in the projects
In the opening chapter of his book, Cain, who disparages the notion of an entitlement-driven society, reveals that when he and his brother Thurman were children, they lived in an Atlanta housing project, which Cain described as “government-supported housing downtown, on Gray Street, not two yards from where the Convention Center now stands.” He describes in the book how the family later moved to a “half a house” and then a single family home in Georgia. But despite having benefited from government-funded housing, Cain, a few pages later, says his parents “were able to achieve their dreams because we didn’t have government in the way as much as it is in the way today.”
2. He’s dispassionate about his time in the “segregated south.”
Cain’s first book chapter is entitled “Growing Up Poor in the Segregated South,” but his descriptions of the era are dispassionate at best. He describes being told by a teacher at Gray Street Elementary School that “you’re not getting the same education as white students,” and shrugging it off as just one more reason to work harder; or sneaking a sip from a “whites only fountain” despite the fact that his “mom reminded us that we must use the ‘coloreds’ fountain,” (his observation at the time: “You know what? The ‘whites only’ water tastes just the same as the ‘coloreds’ does!”) … or moving with his friends to the back of a half-empty city bus when the driver told them to, “counter to our real feelings,” in order to “avoid trouble.”
WATCH THEGRIO’S JOY-ANN REID DISCUSS HERMAN CAIN ON MSNBC
And he says in chapter two of the book that he knew he was turned away from recently desegregated University of Georgia and Georgia Tech because of his race, and so went to Morehouse, which he claims he knew nothing about in advance, beyond it’s location in Atlanta. In one passage, Cain describes waiting for his turn at a barbershop, only to discover the black barbers weren’t allowed to cut black people’s hair. His response: he started cutting his own hair, and claims he does so to this day.
3. The Morehouse years: civil rights and Vietnam no, glee club, yes!
Regarding the civil rights movement itself, which he describes as “a few years in front of me” (though he was attenting Morehouse college from 1963 to 1967 — key years in the civil rights struggle…) Cain writes, “we saw it every day on TV and read about it in the news. Dad always said, “Stay out of trouble,” and we did.”
Cain also writes nothing about the momentous events that took place in the country during his Morehouse years and the years just afterward: nothing about his reaction to the death of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and not a word about the Vietnam War, which escalated throughout his college years. (By contrast, he goes into great detail about his corporate exploits, including his quest to figure out how to make an all-meat pizza that wasn’t too salty…)
Cain does say this about civil rights: “Having graduated from Morehouse in 1967, I was a beneficiary of the civil rights movement. I received twenty-five job offers, and they came from some of America’s most respected and successful corporations.” And he describes with great pride what he did do at Morehouse: he was a member of the Morehouse Quartet, and became president of the Glee Club.
4. Cain’s big jobs often tied to his father
Cain talks a lot in the book about being self-directed, but his career path appears to have been closely connected to his father’s employment. He writes that his mother worked as a maid and his father held various jobs, including as a barber, and as a chauffeur at the Coca-Cola Company, where he later became the private driver for Coca-Cola CEO Robert W. Woodruff. In the chapter entitled “CEO of Self,” Cain says his father tipped him off to a job opening in Coca-Cola’s research lab. Cain would later rise to management at the company, though he says he eventually left because he realized that his rise was limited by his always being seen as “the chauffeur’s son.”
Likewise, Cain later worked as a vice president at Pillsbury, where his father had been a janitor. It was at Pillsbury that Cain was named president of Godfather’s Pizza, which the company had acquired in a deal to buy a chain of 300 Burger King franchises from a company called Diversifoods. He later bought out the company with a partner and became the pizza chain’s CEO.
Up next: threatening a white man with a gun … and just call him “Cornbread…”5. Cain claims his father once threatened a white man with a gun
Cain describes his father, Luther Cain, as a man who counseled his children to “stay out of trouble.” But he also describes an incident that seems improbable given that profile. In the early part of the book, it’s clear that Cain revered Robert Woodruff, whom he described as a good businessman, “very benevolent” and a “champion of rights for blacks” who often gave his father gifts, including cash. He also says Woodruff gave his father stock in the company, and says his father responded to the CEO’s white accountant’s unhappiness with the stock gifts by “jokingly” telling the man, Joe Jones, a threatening story about his skill with a pistol. Cain writes that his father asked to see Jones outside on the driveway, and told him:
“Do you see this gun I’m carrying?” – Dad had a permit to carry one because he was with Woodruff – “Do you know how good I can shoot this gun?” … “I can throw a silver dollar up in the air and hit it four times before it hits the ground. That’s how good a shot I am. … If you ever tell Mr. Woodruff not to do something for me again, you’re going to find out how good I am with this gun!”
6. He left a vice president’s job to flip burgers at Burger King
Cain describes leaving his executive job at Pillsbury for Burger King, where before he could attend Burger King University in Miami as a prelude to becoming a regional vice president with the company, he had to learn the business from the ground up. That meant learning all of the duties of a restaurant manager, from cleaning the fry bin to flipping burgers during a training stint at a restaurant in Minneapolis. He says his parents thought he was crazy for giving up a vice president’s position for an uncertain future in the restaurant business, but he says he was determined to be “president of something.”
7. “Call me Cornbread”
Cain often tells racially self-deprecating stories in the book; describing his father’s white Cadillac with chrome fixtures on he hood as looking “like a drug dealer’s car”; or blithely describing a police officer pulling him, his father and brother over in their Caddy’s and calling them “boys.” But Cain takes things one step further when he describes the nickname he gave himself when he and his brother Thurman were young men driving their father’s hand-me-down Cadillacs to his aunt’s funeral, and talking on CB radios: “Cornbread.” Because he “loves cornbread.” And apparently, Cain intends to carry his nickname with him to the White House:
Incidentally, my handle seems to be sticking to me. One member of my campaign staff, a young man named Nathan Naidu, insists that when I;m president my Secret Service name is going to be “Cornbread!” And in the meantime, he says, whenever he puts anything on my campaign schedule, instead of writing “Mr. Cain,” I’ll be referred to as “Cornbread.”
8. Cain’s brother died from complications of drug and alcohol abuse
Though he doesn’t spend more than a few paragraphs on it, Cain says his brother Thurman, after taking care of their ailing, aging parents, died at age 52 in 1999 “because he made some choices that ruined his health and shortened his life, involving alcohol and drugs.” He says Thurman graduated from Morris Brown College, and like Cain and his father, worked for a time at the Coca-Cola Company, as well as at Shell Oil, but later had trouble succeeding as a “programmer” and at “several entrepreneurial ventures.”
9. Cain the “company man.”
Throughout the book, what comes through most strongly is Cain’s determination to succeed in the corporate world, and his reverence for the world of business. So much so, that in some ways the book appears to highlight a singularity of purpose that can come across as lacking on the compassion front. In one chapter, Cain describes what happened on his last day as a Pillsbury executive:
The people I worked with at Pillsbury gave me a farewell reception in a large activities room near my office. During the party, my secretary came over to me and said there was an urgent telephone call for me. My brother, Thurman, was on the line. “Dad just passed away,” he said.”
While we had been expecting that sad news, the finality of it wasvery real. I just sat there for a few minutes and prayed. Then I collected myself and returned to the reception. I knew that was what Dad would have wanted me to do.
10. He’s obsessed with the number “45”
Forget “999”. The number Cain devotes an entire chapter of his book to is “45,” which he says is his special number. See, he was born in 1945… he wants to be the 45th president of the United States, he once read a Reader’s Digest article about an economist’s book called “The Road to Serfdom” — that article having been written in 1945… he once ate at a restaurant in Cleveland called Table 45 … he wrote a speech once with 645 words in it … and in 2013, he and his wife, Gloria will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary (in the White House, according to Cain.) Later in the book, in an unrelated chapter, he informs his faithful readers that President Barack Obama’s average approval rating is … wait for it … 45.