Last week John Kerry entered the 95th annual NAACP convention to a cozy five-minute ovation and the knowledge that Chairman Julian Bond and President Kweisi Mfume are firm supporters in the coming election. Having long abandoned the party of Lincoln for the party of the left, the group’s leadership, as African-American Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele commented, “has put the NAACP dangerously close to being branded as just an arm of the Democratic party;” and many African-American leaders have been critical of the group’s leftward drift.
In a Wall Street Journal article last week, Education Secretary Rod Paige, responding to the criticism of Bond and Mfume, wrote a searing article accusing the current leadership of the NAACP of “naked partisanship.” His message to the civil-rights group: “You do not own, and you are not the arbiters of, African-American authenticity.” Paige believes that black leadership in the United States can and should be open to conservatism.
Voters in Georgia have the change to elect a sure-fire challenge to the NAACP.
Today, Tuesday, July 20, 2004, entrepreneur Herman Cain, a conservative black Republican, and the former owner of Godfather’s Pizza will square off against Mac Collins and Johnny Isakson for Zell Miller’s soon-to-be vacant Georgia Senate seat. All three men are excellent candidates for the position; but Cain, with his strong conservative record and remarkable ethos in the African-American community, could prove both a powerful voice of black conservatism in the Congress and an invaluable campaigning partner for the president in November.
Cain is staunchly conservative. An entrepreneur from Atlanta who grew up the son of a Coke executive’s chauffer, Cain raised himself from poverty in the civil-rights-era south to become one of the most successful African-American businessmen in the region; and his politics reflect both his entrepreneurial spirit and his deeply religious past. Cain is adamantly pro-life. He is anti-affirmative action. He stood against an extension of prescription-drug benefits, noting that the benefit was bound “to become another massive entitlement program that is destined to fail and burden the next generation;” and he has stated his dedication to the Second Amendment, to Social Security reform, and to abolishing the current tax code. It appears, as Cain himself noted in a Washington Post article this weekend, “If you want to define conservative, I’ll spell it for you: C-A-I-N.”
Perhaps more importantly, however, these conservative credentials have not alienated him from the African-American community, and he remains a viable challenge to established black leadership. Cain’s grandparents were slaves and he is a graduate of historically black Morehouse College–where he continues to serve as a trustee. According to transcripts of the Rush Limbaugh show, when Cain addresses black churches, he asks the crowd, “Are you against abortion? Are you for lower taxes?” And when they raise their hands, he proclaims, “Congratulations, you are all conservative Republicans.” On many issues, Cain’s stance seems far more in-line with the African-American community than his liberal counterparts would admit. Cain notes that most blacks do not live long enough to collect the amount they paid into social security, and his opposition to gay marriage echoes the stance affirmed by the 2.5 million member African Methodist Episcopal Church and the majority of black voters.
Finally, Cain has the experience and the know-how to rule a Senate roost. A former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, he was a senior adviser to the Dole/Kemp campaign in 1996, and he was a member of the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform. He is a motivational speaker who has published several books, and while he has never held office in Washington, his apolitical background might be a boon for a man attempting to ignite a populace (conservative and African-American) increasingly disillusioned with conventional D.C. politics.
Currently, there are currently no black members of the United States Senate. In the south, black politics are still dominated by conventional Democrats like Jesse Jackson and John Lewis. In Illinois, the ultra-liberal Barack Obama is poised to become the successor to former senator Carol Moseley Braun; and in Philadelphia, the NAACP made it abundantly clear that liberal leaders like Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond continue to set the agenda for what remains of the civil-rights movement in America–an agenda that long ago abandoned the interests of African Americans and includes the endorsement of the Democratic slate in November.
The election of Herman Cain could affect startling change to this atrophied model of black leadership–one leaving the GOP and the United States better off. And the NAACP, no doubt, peeved.
–John Coleman is a former resident of Columbus Georgia and a graduate of Berry College in Rome, Ga. He is currently a freelance writer and director of a fellowship program in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at http://johncoleman.typepad.com.