RAISING CAIN

September 28, 2011

Just before 6 PM Saturday, the remarkably efficient information loop known as Twitter exploded with the news that Herman Cain had won the straw poll in Florida. The conclusion of many of America's top political writers (in 140-character chunks) was, "that ringing sound you hear is the death knell of the six-week-old campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry."

All of a sudden, the former owner and CEO of Godfather's Pizza moved from the third to the upper second tier and quite possibly moved Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to the bottom.

Herman Cain, called by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee an "Oreo Cookie," may seem to some a way for the GOP to shake the Liberal Establishment's insistence that the GOP in general, and the Tea Party specifically is racist. But don't count on it.

No, we will continue to be instructed by the Congressional Black Caucus, 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 Co., 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 he also became 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 -- it is likely to remain so.

Cain's 999-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 post." It isn't that Cain lacks the stature to be president, it's that 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 advisors 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 Party. He is not our knight in shining armor. But, I personally think he'd make a great Director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House.


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