So Herman Cain believes that his blackness is a factor in his woman troubles. Here's part of a conversation with Charles Krauthammer on Fox News:
KRAUTHAMMER: Mr. Cain, when Clarence Thomas was near to achieving position of high authority, he was hit with a sexual harassment charge. You, contending for presidency nomination, the office of highest authority, leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, all of a sudden get hit with a sexual harassment charge. Do you think that race, being a strong black conservative, has anything to do with the fact you've been so charged? And if so, do you have any evidence to support that?
CAIN: I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it. But because I am unconventional candidate running an unconventional campaign and achieving some unexpected unconventional results in terms of my, the poll, we believe that, yes, there are some people who are Democrats, liberals, who do not want to see me win the nomination. And there could be some people on the right who don't want to see me because I'm not the, quote/unquote, "establishment candidate." No evidence.
KRAUTHAMMER: But does race have any part of that? Establishment, maverick, yes. What about race?
CAIN: Relative to the left I believe race is a bigger driving factor. I don't think it's a driving factor on the right. This is just based upon our speculation.
What does Cain mean when he says "there are some people who are Democrats, liberals, who do not want to see me win the nomination ... relative to the left I believe race is the bigger driving factor"?
I've spoken about Cain recently with five black conservatives: Armstrong Williams, Michael Steele, Richard Ivory of hiphoprepublican.com, Mychal Massie, and Crystal Wright of conservativeblackchick.com. Some of them expressed hopes that Cain could break the near-monopoly Democrats have had on the black vote since the 1960s. This view holds that Cain--born and raised in Jim Crow Georgia, Morehouse College graduate, minister at his black church--can connect with black voters on a visceral level. And this view draws a contrast with President Obama, whom some Republicans describe as Hawaii-born, Harvard-educated, and half-white.
So perhaps Cain is saying that liberals are afraid he might win black votes from Obama and challenge the conventional black political mindset, and therefore are coming after him with these sexual harassment accusations.
You know, another high-tech lynching:
But Condoleeza Rice disagrees:
"I actually am someone who-- doesn't believe in playing the race card on either side. I've seen it played, by the way, on the other side quite a lot too. And it's not good for the country."
(Imagine if she had run for president.)
Even before these harassment allegations broke, the conventional wisdom was that Cain didn't have enough money or campaign infrastructure to win the GOP nomination. It remains to be seen whether the harassment claims will knock Cain from atop the polls. No matter what happens, he doesn't seem likely to get knocked out of the racial discussion any time soon.
Herman Cain is complicating the era of the first black president, simply by trying to become the second one.
Even though Cain is less likely to become the GOP's presidential nominee than Tea Party is to occupy Wall Street, his rise raises many fascinating, nuanced and subjective questions about race and politics. I’d like to explore a few of them here this week, one question at a time.
Before that, though: the "inappropriate sexual behavior" thing. Yes, the accusations against Cain immediately bring Clarence Thomas to mind. Yes, both men are older black Republicans born in Georgia. Yes, there is a media fascination with sexual transgressions, especially those involving black men. And yes, most people who work at major news outlets are not conservative, which influences the product to a certain extent. (There is no such thing as pure journalistic objectivity. We journalists just need to be as fair as humanly possible.)
But does this mean that the Cain allegations got so much attention because Cain is black, or because he is a black conservative? Well, if Mitt Romney had been the subject of the same allegations, he would be receiving the same scrutiny. (If the women who accused Cain are publicly revealed as white, though, all bets are off.) And certainly voters deserve to know that a leading candidate for president was accused of inappropriate behavior by two of his employees, and that the women were compensated in exchange for dropping the matter.
If Cain's race is any type of factor in the story about the charges, his blackness looms far larger in other areas. Such as the obvious question of, does Cain’s success blunt the persistent accusations that the GOP harbors racists, and that opposition to Obama is partly/largely due to white resistance to the idea of a black president?
In other words, does Cain’s success mean conservatives are less racist than some liberals say?
Logically, it would seem the answer is yes. How can a racist person or party be so enthusiastic about a black candidate? This is what conservatives are saying. Armstrong Williams, the black conservative commentator and TV host, told me that Republicans “want the right president, and if he happens to be black, more the better. They want to show, more than anything else, if the Democratic party can select the wrong one, we can select the right one, and he just happens to be black. … They feel good about that, because it will get a monkey off their backs.”
A monkey off their backs. Good one.
But some aren’t letting the GOP off that easily. They believe that a white person can have stereotypical beliefs about black folks in general—they’re lazy, promiscuous, violent, etc.—and still think that individual blacks are OK.
“There are people who might vote for Cain, and think he will be a good leader, and still think that most black people are failures,” Imani Perry, a black studies professor at Princeton, told me. I’m sure this view will infuriate some conservatives who think that no matter what they do, they will still be called racist.
Does this leave us back where we started—with conservatives constantly cast as prejudiced? I don’t think so.
“Politics are so shaped by image and symbolism and sound byte,” Perry said. “Our attention span for political content is so short, that how someone looks, the few details we know about them, winds up having a big impact on opinions about them, sometimes more than their actual beliefs and arguments.”
Cain is undeniably black. He looks black, down to the gold chain around his neck. If you close your eyes and listen to him talk, he sounds black. (“Alan Keyes sounds like he’s from Oxford,” Linda Chavez, CEO of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, told me.) Cain was raised by a chauffeur and a maid in the Jim Crow South. He graduated from Morehouse. This is potent imagery. I don’t think this particular black man will leave the dynamic of race and politics unchanged.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com