Herman Cain is a controversial figure and Pat Buchanan applauds that. Good for Pat Buchanan. Good for Herman Cain. Good for Republican voters. But this is very bad for Americans as we head into the heart of another election cycle with Barack Obama facing candidate X. (And I thought I didn't need to know algebra.) If we are going to allow race and its complex meanings to impact our discussions of the qualifications or lack thereof in candidates as we go forward then we better learn to not to walk away from or fear the conversation.
Let's be clear about this one: Both Buchanan and Cain made problematic assertions. Cain assumes that he knows what motivates a large group of people to vote one way or another. He finds evidence of "brainwashing" on the part of African American voters. Buchanan feels licensed, then, to respond with praise for his claims (I assume he thinks this license comes from Cain's position as an insider in the black community) about African Americans being brainwashed and adds an assertion about the "liberal plantation" that then gets read as (OMG!) racist.
More important than the questions: is this racist(?) or what is racist(?) or even who said what(?) is this:
We are living at a time when it is desperately essential that each voter looks for integrity and leadership in candidates. In order to find that integrity we need our mainstream media to do its work carefully and critically.
When Cain made the original claim, he should have been asked to explain exactly how he comes to these conclusions given some sets of, also, commonly held assumptions about the African American experience. He should have been asked to account for the role of and the need for the NAACP, affirmative action, the experiences of Rodney King, the burning of African American churches, the murder of civil rights leaders, the murder of Troy Davis, the every day lived experiences of many African American people as they face the quiet, habitual and exhausting micro examples of racism on a daily basis and what that means to the voting habits of particular groups as he comes to conclusions that are primarily decontextualized assumptions about socio-economic realities apparent to Mr. Cain today. If that is a complex sentence, it needs to be. These are difficult times. If we are going to lob names at people, let's really see the way their principles operate. I won't be voting for Cain, but he deserves a fair hearing and room to explain and explore his ideas. And we deserve more information as we make our way to November and the polls.
As for Pat Buchanan: Martin Bashir should have asked him to unpack the phrase "liberal plantation." If we're going to talk about race (which by the way is a concept disputed in science!) then let's really have that discussion. Pat Buchanan, too, ought to be given the room to extend the metaphor. Maybe it would be nice to have them explain their alliance as they sit in a room together with a willing journalist.
Let us not side-step and put our hands over our mouths in outrage or embarrassment, but instead admit that racism (without authentic racial distinctions) is alive and well in our discourse and our land.