Do not suppose for a minute that Herman Cain’s victory in the Florida straw poll will alter the liberal narrative about the Tea Party and Republicans. No, we will continue to be instructed by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Today Show and the New York Times that the eruption of the tea parties is a reflection of the dark id of American conservatism; that it is primarily racist and xenophobic; and that the Tea Party movement is radical and extremist.
Waving the “bloody shirt” of racism has been the most reliable workhorse of Democratic politics for at least a generation. Remember the wall-to-wall coverage of the “epidemic” of black-church fires in the 1990s? Remember George W. Bush’s “insensitivity” regarding the ghastly lynching of James Byrd? The epidemic turned out to be imaginary and Bush was happy to sign the death warrant for one of Byrd’s murderers, but the tactic is too precious for Democrats to abandon.
It will take some imagination to explain away Herman Cain’s success. Among the very voters Democrats demonize, Cain achieved a resounding victory with 37.1 percent of the vote — more than twice the percentage of his next nearest competitor, Rick Perry, who received 15.4 percent.
And it wasn’t that Republicans and conservatives were acting upon an affirmative action spirit — trying to prove that they too could pull the lever for a black guy. It’s that Herman Cain delivers a great speech, is willing to propose solutions commensurate with our problems, and is possessed of a remarkably sunny personality. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that his power as an orator sealed the deal for hundreds of delegates. They believed Cain was speaking to them from the heart, and they were carried away by it.”
And it doesn’t hurt that Cain embodies the Horatio Alger rise to success that liberals dismiss as myth but conservatives still believe.
Raised in pre–civil rights Georgia by working-class parents (his mother was a maid and his father worked as a janitor, a barber, and a chauffeur), Cain got a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College and then a master’s in computer science at Purdue. While in school he worked for the Navy in ballistics. Upon leaving the Navy, he entered the heart of corporate America, working first for the Coca-Cola company, later for Pillsbury, and then Burger King. The division of Burger King he headed went from the least profitable to the most profitable in three years. He performed similar magic for Godfather’s Pizza, but in a shorter time, turning the company to profitability in a mere 14 months. He served as chairman and later CEO of the National Restaurant Association, and as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, before achieving the true pinnacle of human achievement with a syndicated newspaper column.
Cain’s proposal to reform Social Security along the lines that Chile and 36 other nations have adopted is the sanest entitlement-policy prescription of the campaign thus far — and with Mitt Romney playing it safe and Rick Perry having taken so much heat for the Ponzi-scheme wording — likely to remain so.
Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan is similarly refreshing. Our 11,045-page tax code, barnacled by layer after layer of complexity and special-interest loopholes, is a drag on productivity and national sanity. A government-watchdog agency estimates that Americans spend 6.1 billion hours annually complying with the code. Something like Cain’s plan would cut the Gordian knot.
But, as historian and political analyst Richard Brookhiser put it, about Pat Robertson in the 1988 presidential election, “The presidency is not an entry-level position.” It isn’t that Cain lacks the stature to be president, but he lacks the kind of experience the office requires. Though we perpetually disparage politicians in America (for good reasons much of the time), it cannot be denied that political skills are necessary in a political job. Beyond delivering a good speech, a successful president must know how to build coalitions, apply pressure to friends and foes alike, deal with a hostile press, appoint officials who won’t embarrass the administration, handle ego and turf battles among his advisers and cabinet members, and know when to spend and when to husband political capital. And all of that is before he begins to deal with other nations.
Cain is a great American. His sudden rise in the presidential contest should (but won’t) give pause to the bigots who have defamed conservatives and the tea parties. But he is not our knight in shining armor. There may not be one. He’d make a heck of a treasury secretary though.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.