What Herman Cain Understands About Conservatives

herman cain is a sober visionary

Politico reports on this exchange between Herman Cain and conservative radio host Neil Boortz:

Boortz, at the tail end of the interview, asks Cain how he’d do in a debate against Obama:

“It would almost be no contest.”

Ticking off ways he could compete with Obama, Boortz says that Cain would be able to talk about the black experience in America.

Cain’s response: “[Obama’s] never been a part of the black experience in America.”

There are more than 30 million black people in America, spread out across 50 states and living within countless overlapping communities. Cain notwithstanding, the “black experience” doesn’t exist. Rather, there are -- and have always been -- an abundance of black experiences. Yes, the “black experience” of a military brat from the Virginia suburbs is immeasurably different from that of a rural Texan or a denizen of Seattle’s Central District, but it’s no less black. Blackness is inclusive, and it encompasses Barack Obama’s experiences as much as it does Herman Cain’s. Put another way, when every barbershop in black America has a portrait of Barack Obama, and when every black neighborhood has someone who sells Barack Obama T-shirts, it's hard to say that Obama isn't considered black. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Cain has attacked Obama for his blackness, or lack thereof. At the beginning of this year, he told a group of Republicans that “they” -- the liberal media -- are “scared” that a “real black man might run against Barack Obama.” Likewise, in an interview with New York Magazine this summer, Cain doubled-down on his remarks, telling the magazine that Obama is not a “strong black man” in terms that he identifies with.
That Cain presents himself as more blackity-black than Barack Obama is just part of his persona.

What’s striking about it all is his choice of audience. With the exception of his interview with New York Magazine, Cain saves these remarks for white, Republican audiences. I’d be shocked if this wasn’t deliberate. Conservatives hate accusations of racism and are more vocal about those than they are actual instances of discrimination against racial minorities. With his upbringing in the segregated South and an accent that shows it, Herman Cain stands as the perfect weapon against anyone who questions the racial egalitarianism of conservatives. To borrow a line I used yesterday, Cain offers “absolution from racial guilt and a unique chance to turn the tables on liberals who accuse the right of racism.”

Herman Cain is a great speaker, but that’s the reason he received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Values Voter Summit, after denying any anger over Jim Crow. Indeed, this quote -- from an attendee at the summit -- says it all, “I don’t give him a chance, but it would be interesting. At least, no one would call him a racist.”

Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie

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