Cain can't have it both ways on n-word controversy

I was beginning to think there was hope for Herman Cain. In recent weeks his campaign had begun to take flight as he doubled down on his conservative values. Cain isn’t a man of nuance. If he was against it yesterday, he’s against it today. If he says it, he believes it.

Yesterday, Cain responded to a Washington Post that claimed Governor Rick Perry’s family held political events at a hunting parcel known as “Ni**erhead.” Without batting an eye, Cain rightly called it “insensitive.”

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Perry’s father, according to reports, leased the land in the mid-80s. That’s where things get foggy. If Perry is to be believed, he urged his father to remove the racial epithet and that his father did so shortly there after. If sources (and many of them anonymous) can be trusted, then the rock bearing the name was still visible as late as 1991. Either way, the hunt club is still known informally as “Ni**erhead”. Presumably, no African-Americans participated in the events held there. It all sounds like an inside joke among good ole boys.

Well, yesterday the joke was on Cain if he believed his Republican compatriots would follow him in condemning what is at the very least a case of cultural insensitivity and, at most, evidence of deeply rooted racial intolerance.

Either way, there will be no lasting implications for Perry. The story simply broke too early for that. If, and when, Perry makes the general all the shine will have worn off of this one. But what might be a road bump for Perry could turn out to be catastrophic for Cain on the heels of his stunning victory in the Florida straw poll. His momentum is draining away.
In 1998, I worked for a U.S. Senate candidate who believed his membership in an all-white, exclusive south Florida country club didn’t matter. When challenged on it, he told me “the only people that care about things like that are people like you.” It turns out Georgia voters did care. Despite pumping millions of his personal fortune into the campaign, Guy Milner lost by about 36,000 votes.

By Monday morning, right wing blogs including Erik Erickson’s RedState.com and Rush Limbaugh were shaking their head in disbelief over Cain’s remarks. Limbaugh called it this year’s “macaca story”, a reference to the video that all but ended Sen. George Allen’s (R-VA) re-election bid in 2006.

Limbaugh and others are plenty disappointed that Cain would raise the issue. Several comments on RedState.com even went so far as to defend the term “ni**erhead” as something innocuous, pointing to other instances of its use.

One anonymous commenter, known only at “TBone” said, “Cain needs to apologize to Perry.” Another urged Cain to “do his research” on the term — as if Herman Cain, the son of a Coca Cola executive chauffeur, needs a lesson in what the word “ni**er” has come to mean in America.

However, in his statements regarding Perry, Cain crossed the line everybody knew was there. Call it the “12th Commandment”. Thou shalt not charge a fellow republican with being culturally insensitive, prejudiced and/ or racist at any time. It’s rarely invoked, mostly because everybody follows it. So then it was Cain running for cover, not Perry. It was Cain — a man who has likely never been to or been welcome at “Ni**erhead” — who was on the defensive today.

Within hours of rebuke, Cain had had enough of the so-called mainstream media and it’s fact-based reporting. “I really don’t care about that word,” Cain said. “They painted over it. End of story! I accept Gov. Perry’s response on that.”

“I’m done with that issue!” he yelled at reporters.

Cain was supposed to help them assuage any leftover vestiges of guilt and prove to the world that the Republican Party was a racially tolerant meritocracy. Yesterday, Cain simply got out of place. This morning, and for the foreseeable future, he’ll have to prove that he can be trusted with the Republican mantel again.

If Cain cannot stand courageous in the face of something so egregious as this, what will he stand up for? How can we trust him to eschew bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head, when he so easily backs away out of political expediency? For black voters, this only serves as validation of what they already believed. “He’s of my color,” it’s so often said. “But of my kind.”