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Race and beyond: Black against Black in the next presidential contest

Sam Fulwood III | 10/21/2011, 11:01 a.m.

Could it really happen? Could the 2012 presidential ballot feature a top-line, smack-down, pizza-making executive Herman Cain as the Republican Party challenger against President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent?

As I write this, Cain is the statistical leader in a crowded field of Republican candidates. If the election were held today-daring to believe an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released last week-Cain would be his party's nominee. The poll, conducted by the usually reliable and bipartisan polling tandem of Democratic Peter D. Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, revealed Cain as the front-running choice of 27 percent of likely Republican voters, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 23 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 16 percent.

Such numbers mean nothing at this stage of the game. Or do they? Well, I think the poll figures are significant, but not because they paint a path for Cain toward the White House. Rather, I find it noteworthy-inspiring, in fact-that a Black man is the darling of the Republican presidential field. What's more, his support is anchored by Tea Party radicals widely demonized as a racist fringe of the Republican Party.

Is that progress or not? In a perverse way, I believe it is.

What Cain's thus-far successful campaign tells us is that there's no solitary way to be a Black American. If we care to listen and learn, Cain is telling the nation and world that Black people are as varied and unique as white snowflakes. Political opportunism-in Cain's case, his publicly espousing views privately shared by a few conservative Blacks and consequently finding an embrace among many conservative whites-like ideology and political leanings, knows no racial boundaries.

For sure, Cain's extreme conservatism swivels 180 degrees opposite to almost everything Obama represents. And that is precisely what makes him popular with the people who desperately want to believe in what Cain represents. So it comes as little surprise that another poll reported this week by FoxNews.com suggests that if the election were held today, Cain would actually beat the president. This poll, conducted by the right-leaning Rasmussen Reports, says such a hypothetical heads-up contest shows Cain collecting 43 percent of the general election vote to Obama's 41 percent.

Never mind that almost none of those Cain supporters are Black. Cain's rise to political prominence among right-wing zealots represents the pretzel-like knots that his almost exclusively white supporters must contort themselves into to deny Obama's reelection. Cain's Black skin, folksy language and cocky conservatism shields haters of our president from accusations of racism.

To be fair, liberal extremists were similarly overjoyed to cast a ballot for Obama, as if doing so proved that they-indeed, the nation-had entered some imaginary post-racial period.

Simply put, if Obama and Cain find themselves face to face in a series of presidential debates, then both ultra-conservatives and liberal extremists would have to admit on some gut level that they were staring into a funhouse mirror-the similarity of the candidates' skin contrasted by their very different politics, the latter of which would have put both men on the ballot, couldn't be any brighter if one candidate was ebony and the other was ivory.