Christmas has come early: Herman Cain is no longer pretending to run for president.
It is for that reason that he has selected BET to air his final interview. A curious decision considering that throughout his campaign, Cain had deliberately avoided any association with African-Americans or the political issues traditionally of concern to the black community.
But last night, Black Entertainment Television (BET) aired a half-hour documentary on Herman Cain’s now defunct candidacy for the GOP Presidential nomination. The segment, entitled ‘The Curious Case of Citizen Cain’, was an homage of sorts to the classic Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, which ironically tells the story of a wealthy businessmen turned political hopeful who sees his chances of winning office derailed by a sex scandal.
WATCH CAIN DEFEND THE TEA PARTY FROM THE BET SPECIAL:
The film, often considered one of the greatest of all time, was originally released in the 1940’s, the decade of Herman Cain’s birth. The parallels between the Kane plot line and Cain’s campaign trajectory are uncanny, though neither are based in reality.
This was a fact not lost on the producers at BET, who to my surprise, provided a unique opportunity for Herman Cain to speak directly to an African-American audience, many of whom never quite embraced his Tea Party rhetoric and anti-Obama message, but still wanted insight into what made this particular black man tick. Some would like to believe that Cain was a genuine patriot, committed to leading and helping his country, not simply a cash-driven, book salesman working as the secret tool of the Koch Brothers. There remained an optimism that Cain could not simply be reduced to age-old insults like ‘Sambo’ and ‘Uncle Tom’. Clearly, there was more to this character, right?
Well, yes and no.
BET News correspondent Emmett Miller, who followed the campaign during its glory days, gave Cain the opportunity to answer questions without judgment. The network described it by saying “Cain talks in-depth for the first time to the black audience about what he calls ‘scams perpetrated on blacks’ by liberal black leaders, his fiery brand of “conservatism”:http://www.thegrio.com/politics/herman-cains-presidential-run-a-setback-black-conservatives.phphttp://, and the sex scandals that drove him from the Republican presidential race.”
Despite my hesitation in watching, Miller and BET delivered just that. They also managed to find and interview the few — but visible — black Cain supporters. These enthusiasts described their affinity for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, explaining that the economy mattered more than anything and this was a man who spoke about jobs and business in a way that resonated with them.
Much like his mostly, white, older patrons, these African-Americans were happy to be associated with both the Tea Party and Herman Cain, as a badge of honor of sorts, seemingly convinced that they lived in a post-racial America. Their even tone suggested that the politics of the hour — dominated as it is with incessant GOP attacks against President Obama, had nothing to do with race. In their opinion, it was all about the economy.
Cain, reveled in this limelight, and on the campaign trail seemed more like a small town celebrity, grateful for the support, than a presidential hopeful, running for the world’s most powerful position. BET’s cameras captured Cain shaking hands, smiling and signing books with the after Sunday service ease of a Baptist minister. And perhaps this has been his appeal all along.
But much like the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was always more style than substance, Cain inevitably falters when asked direct questions.
During his sit down session with Miller, he struggles to defend his past statements about African-Americans. Most notably Miller asks him to explain why he claimed that black progressives Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson perpetrated a ‘scam’, which kept blacks politically unempowered. Cain’s response? “You can use whatever word you like…scam…(Pause)…or another word.”
There is never any ‘there’ there with Cain. He doesn’t seem to have the intellectual curiosity or ability to finish a thought. Much like his embarrassing gaffe on Libya during an interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in November, Cain struggles to explain his disagreement with the Democratic establishment, his belief that blacks have been “brainwashed”, and why the GOP provides a viable alternative.
What was equally unsettling was that one Georgia State Senator interviewed by BET is a member of the same church Cain has attended in Atlanta for many years, and admitted she never knew him. Others, like an Atlanta barber admitted to having never heard of him. This is odd for a high-profile African-American with his own radio program, and a 2004 (albeit unsuccessful) run for U.S. Senate.
African-American politicians have a long history of being involved in the local community at a grassroots level, especially in the church. Cain remained surprisingly disconnected. The community he courted was that of wealthy, powerful and connected white men.
His history is such that after coming to national attention in 1994 when challenging then-President Bill Clinton in a town hall on health care reform, he was approached by conservative Republican Jack Kemp, who quickly persuaded Cain to join the GOP. Kemp also heavily influenced Cain’s ideas on free enterprise and likely provided the basis for Cain’s interests in the now infamous 9-9-9 tax plan. (Kemp had been a vocal, longtime proponent of tax reform.)
After leaving the private sector, Cain’s foray into politics was aided by the likes of the Koch Brothers, for whom he has worked in a number of capacities ever since, and who undoubtedly have provided the financial framework for his now unsuccessful presidential run.
And herein lies the grub, that Cain seems to never have been concerned with solving policy problems or addressing the people’s concerns in any meaningful way. He has instead been an operative for greater corporate interests. The BET interview makes this abundantly clear, and explains to some degree both his rise and demise.
The segment essentially, though unintentionally, frames Cain for what he is: a political nobody at worse and novice at best, but an apparent success at selling a brand of neo-conservatism. This is what it seems his endeavor was about all along.
In tough times, when people are listless and hopeless, it is easier to convince them of that the Wizard behind the curtain has the answer. Despite being unknown and unqualified, Cain managed to capture the attention of the GOP largely because he is black and willing to take on Obama. After three years of visceral race-baiting tactics against the nation’s first African-American president, Republicans thought they had a balm for their original sin.
And like a character in a Vaudeville minstrel show, Cain played his part well. Especially when it came to race. Herman Cain claimed race didn’t matter, but in a June interview with Bloomberg View declared, “I am an American. Black conservative. I don’t use African-American. I’m black and I’m conservative.” He then concluded by saying, “Most of the ancestors that I can trace were born here in the United States of America, and then it goes back to slavery. And I’m sure my ancestors go all the way back to Africa, but I feel more of an affinity for America that I do for Africa. I’m a black man in America.”
Perhaps the self-loathing that fueled his statements is what led him to aggressively (though allegedly) pursue sex misadventures with several white women, and lastly a long-term affair with Ginger White — so many shades lighter than his loyal-standing wife.
As much as I would like to believe that this is the last we’ve seen of Herman Cain, I have an eerie feeling that like Sarah Palin and her reality-television show, celebrity obsessed, faux-politico career, Cain will re-emerge as a star who ‘dances’, or a pundit who hunts with the wolves on Fox.
But what is most disturbing is that there remains an audience for his kind of empty politics. From his lack of foreign policy knowledge, to offensive statements against Muslims, and bold attacks on African-American leaders, whose struggle and integrity have provided the very freedom he enjoys, it seems Cain is more like the brother in Genesis than he is the ‘Citizen’ seeking to add any value.
It makes sense that Cain suspended his campaign while quoting Pokemon: because for him this was always just a game.