Let’s be clear about one thing: Herman Cain is not going to be president of the United States. He’s not even likely to be the Republican nominee.
Nonetheless, he is garnering a huge heap of support and media attention. Incredibly, he has worked his way into what media folks call the top tier of Republican presidential candidates. As a result, he is gaining not just more attention but more scrutiny.
No matter how much notice he gets, Cain, the former Godfather’s pizza executive, is running an unorthodox, bewildering, deeply bizarre campaign that has a message tinged with more than just a little fanaticism. Despite his rise in the polls, Cain’s presidential campaign seems far more like a book tour, with him spending time in places where there are no primaries or caucuses in the near future (in fact, Cain is on the stump hawking his autobiography).
This is a wacky candidate and a wacky campaign. Just a few examples:
* Cain proclaimed that Jesus was the “perfect conservative” who was killed by a “liberal court.”
* When it comes to issues such as immigration and foreign policy, Cain wavers from unenlightened to the purely mean-spirited. In a speech at a campaign stop, he outlined his immigration policy: “Ever heard of the Great Wall of China?” he asked the crowd. “It looks pretty sturdy. And that sucker is real high. I think we can build one if we want to! We’ve put a man on the moon, we can build a fence!
“Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology…It will be a 20-foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top-and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!”
Oh, and one other thing: the fence would have a warning sign in English and Spanish, Cain said, telling onlookers “it will kill you.” Not surprisingly, Cain has been soundly criticized by immigration activists.
* How about Cain’s view on Afghanistan? In a debate in May, Cain said he didn’t know enough about the country to come to any conclusions about American military involvement there-one of the vital theaters of American foreign policy.
* In a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Cain said he had little to no interest in “insignificant countries” like Uzbekistan. He said, “I don’t think that is something that is critical to focusing on national security and getting this economy going.” Never mind Uzbekistan’s strategic significance in the events in Afghanistan.
All of this begs the question: Who’s advising Cain on foreign policy? In an interview on CBS, the presidential candidate answered, “I’m not going to tell you.” His critics, he said, “want to know everything so they can have more ways to try to attack you.”
Cain’s newfound status among the conservative Republican right is easy to understand when one considers the onetime pizza magnate’s views on the role of race in contemporary American society.
“I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way,” Cain said in an interview on CNN recently.
Cain suggests that it’s merely a coincidence that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is staggeringly higher than for white Americans in the world of 2011, and that the disparity between the number of white students in college versus students of color is merely the unfortunately luck of the draw.
The litany of the outlandish from Herman Cain seems to have no end, from telling the Tea Party, “You are not racist; you are patriots,” to criticizing President Obama for not being a “strong Black man.”
What is clear is that this darling of conservative right-wing zealotry is deeply out of sync with anyone’s mainstream. He is beloved by them because he offers, with impunity, criticisms-in blackface-of the president, race and a host of issues. Because this candidate, a Black man who came of age in the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, can offer those criticisms without being accused of being racist, he is beloved by the Tea Party and its sympathizers.
In the end, however, it makes Cain something between a danger and a laughingstock: wholly unelectable to the vast majority of decent, common-sense Americans.