Herman Cain has rocketed to the top of the polls for the Republican nomination for president, but unlike some predecessors, he has retained his position for several weeks. Most others wilted upon closer scrutiny. Cain persists, and here’s why:
He is the ultimate outsider. While others – including the President – are running against Washington, most are part of official Washington, either working there (or aspiring to work there) for their entire public lives or being perceived as part of the Washington establishment for decades. Those without any true Washington connection – a Rick Perry, for example – present as so raw as to be ill-prepared for the Presidency.
Washington as the political center of the nation is the most unpopular entity in the country, and Cain can rail against it credibly, as well as present an alternative locus of power. Cain has the aura of success, a golden touch in every venue he has worked. The American President is the CEO – Chief Executive Officer – of the country; a real CEO, and a successful one, would be a welcome relief from the amateurish ideologues who are now bankrupting the nation. Consider: it is highly unlikely that Cain spent his first three years as CEO of Godfather Pizza blaming its predicament on his predecessor. Like any CEO, he is judged by his performance, including responding to the challenges posed by what his predecessor did. Somehow, that is lost on the incumbent president.
Obama, too, ran as an outsider, and indeed he was – outside any metric by which success is measured and outside the boundaries within which acomplishment is assessed. His victory was the perfect storm, and it is difficult to see how Obama can use the “inexperienced” label against Cain. Cain wears his outsider, “not-a-politician” badge quite naturally, although Rick Santorum cheekily asserted that Cain “is not a politician” because he has lost every election in which he has run. (Of course, Santorum, whose social issues campaign would be a popular banner in every election but this one, also lost his very last election, calling into question his own electability.)
Herman Cain also has the life’s experiences that Obama lacks, even now as president. And he defuses at least partly one of Obama’s main strengths – the monolithic black vote that enabled Obama to carry most states along the coasts where black populations are concentrated. If Cain can peel away even a third of the black vote – along with some Jews who could not bring themselves to vote against a black man, but now can bask in the Cain cover – states like California, New York and New Jersey could become competitive. In the best case scenario, the black electorate could conceivably be re-aligned and its unthinking support for the liberal policies that have engendered a half-century of dependence and social collapse summarily ended.
The truth is that Cain’s life story is far more typical of the average American black than is Obama’s – and far more inspiring. Obama grew up in relative privilege – a son of parents who each had doctorates, and with a Bohemian mother who sent him to live with white grandparents who were solidly middle class. He has no Southern roots at all (one reason why his affection for usin’ a Southern black accent when addressin’ black audiences is so grating. I always vonder how he vould talk to a Jewish audience. I guess I’ll have to vait and vatch vhen it happens.) Cain grew up in relative poverty, with a mother who was a domestic and a father who rose to become a chauffeur – but, most importantly, both instilled in him the traditional American values of self-help, personal responsibility, the rewards of hard work and a loathing of the welfare state. Cain owes his success to his achievements despite the fact he was black; Obama’s victory came because he was black.
Cain’s success story is a much more genuine one than Obama’s, who rode the perfect storm to victory never having achieved anything of note besides the publication of two autobiographies. I sense that the Obama people fear Cain even more than they do Mitt Romney, whom they will present – unfairly – as a symbol of the old ways, the “policies that got us into this mess,” etc. (Obama, interestingly, never fails to rail against the Bush bank bailouts of 2008, and always fails to mention that he voted for them as Senator and expanded them as President.) With Cain, the race card Obama acolytes play when the going gets tough recedes back into the deck.
Herman Cain is also much more articulate than is Obama, and it is also a welcome relief to see people in politics who are not tethered to a teleprompter. (One priceless photo making the Internet rounds shows Obama not long ago speaking from a teleprompter, moving his head side to side as always from behind a podium, while addressing a … kindergarten class.) Cain, Romney and several other candidates just speak from the heart, and so Cain has a unique capacity to connect with people that exceeds Obama’s.
Of course, unscripted also means prone to errors, and Cain has made his share of them. I watched and cringed when Cain stumbled on the “right of return” question Chris Wallace threw at him. Clearly, Cain didn’t know what it was – but he admitted as much the next day. But the CEO need not know every detail of how to make the widget – he just has to know who makes the widget, what a widget should look like and how it should work, and how it is to be sold to the public. He need not know, or pretend to know, the minutiae of every issue facing the government. What he needs to know is the broad direction in which he wants to take the country, and how every decision should advance the goals he articulates. He has to be able to set the tone for his underlings and the sprawling bureaucracy that will execute his policies, and know how to rein in officials who will try to thwart those same policies. Reagan was a master at this, and one senses Cain can be the same type of leader – one with good instincts, and honesty in implementation – and admitting failure and taking responsibility for failure. From that perspective, Obama is much more typical
of his generation, in which the blame for missteps and fiascos always lies
elsewhere. With Obama, not only does the buck not stop with him, it doesn’t
even enter his office.
To be sure, none of this makes Cain the perfect candidate – there is no such creature – nor does it make him the likely nominee. He is such an outsider that it is difficult to see how he can defy the odds and win the nomination. Then again, it was impossible to see Obama, in 2007, as a plausible candidate for president, much less the eventual winner. He has to avoid playing the idiotic gotcha games of the modern media (“who is the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, and who preceded him?”). But a Cain-Romney ticket (even Romney-Cain) would be appealing, cut deeply into Obama’s base and, at this early stage, facilitate a Republican victory. I still maintain (as noted here two years ago) that Obama will ceremoniously dump (Crazy) Joe Biden in favor of Hillary Clinton, which will transform the dynamic of the race in unpredictable ways. It will add a “newness” factor that will rev up the Dem base.
So will a Cain nomination do for Republicans, independents and disaffected Democrats, in either spot on the ticket. He also has the considerable advantage of being competent, compelling, a straight talker, and a non-politician – and someone who lives, and is proud of, the American dream. Anything can happen, in an era in which candidates are marketed like soap. Cain is a master marketer, and he has an engaging product to sell.