What’s Herman Cain Got to Do With It?

People aren't wary of Herman Cain's blackness, success or political party. They're wary of him.

Cain’s platform, after all, starts out fine. He’s the only candidate for the Fair Tax — a plan to replace federal income taxes with a flat consumption tax and an idea worth considering. He also wants to lower capital gains taxes — presumably so that hedge fund managers can get that extra take-home pay they so desperately need.

But after that? Cain would give a loyalty test to any Muslim American who wants to serve in his administration. He’s also joined forces with Princeton professor Cornel West and Minister Louis Farrakhan to question President Barack Obama’s bona fides as a “real black man.”

And on Afghanistan? Cain says, “You don’t need to have foreign policy experience to know who your friends and who your enemies are.” Compare that stance with Obama’s promise in 2008 that “we will kill bin Laden, we will crush al-Qaida.” For better or for worse, he has done exactly that.

Cain’s views simply aren’t winning ones. And most black voters are negatively disposed toward him because of those views — not because of blind loyalty to Obama or to Democrats.

You can call it progress that a portion of the white electorate is backing Cain because, as McWhorter says, “they cannot be under any impression that an outspokenly Republican black person is going to ‘lead’ black America and serve as a role model.” But actually, as the New Republic’s Ed Kilgore explains, “Cain has become not a role model but an implicit living rebuke to his fellow African-Americans, who have, in the imaginations of many white conservatives,” let liberals lead them around by the nose.

Which, of course, conservatives of any color are entitled to believe. But it’s no longer good enough to be the I’m-not-like-those-other-blacks candidate and call that progress. And that’s mostly what Cain is selling.

Progress would look like one candidate — black, white or otherwise — criticizing another candidate — black, white or otherwise — on the issues of the day: wars, debt and health care. Or at least if one black candidate — Cain — said he was proud that Obama became the first black president, but that as the second black president, he thinks he can do a better job.

That would be progress. But that hasn’t happened.

There’s still a discussion to be had about the meaning of Cain’s candidacy. Maybe he’s a flash in the pan. Maybe he represents the beginning of a slow, steady migration of African Americans to the Republican Party. And maybe that’s a good thing. But whatever it is, it starts with real talk about issues facing real Americans — black, white or otherwise. It doesn’t start with one guy telling the other that he’s not a “real black man.”

That’s just, you know, perpetually sad.

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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