11/23/2011 10:36 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2012

I Don't Know Herman Cain

When I was first asked my opinion on Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain in September, I didn't really know who the man was. I had heard about a new African-American Republican hopeful who had won the straw poll in Florida against Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican gang, but I didn't take it seriously. I only viewed Mr. Cain as a fly-by-night public relations star. It happens every election. People you've never heard of before become wildly popular in a matter of days. Then they ride out their popularity for new opportunities. Sarah Palin and Ross Perot immediately come to mind.

I also viewed Mr. Cain as an obvious Republican pawn to create confliction for African-American voters and the first African-American president. I mean, really, would white America come right behind Barack Obama and vote for a black Republican? We did have Michael Steele as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee recently. Maybe black is "in" again, even for Republicans. In that case, Mr. Cain could make a successful run, or at least successful enough to be considered. After all, he did win the straw poll in Florida as he picked up a new wave of national momentum. And he has yet to fade away into oblivion. I even saw him interviewed on David Letterman recently.

So I was forced to do some research on the man, which is easy to do in the information age with Google, the internet and Wikipedia. You can find out plenty of information on popular folks in a hot minute. Or, you can read what I've found before researching the man for yourself.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1945 to a two-parent household, the Cain family moved to the west side of Atlanta, Georgia where Herman attended public schools, church on Sunday, and enrolled at the esteemed Morehouse College, earning a degree in mathematics in 1967. He also met and married Gloria, his wife of forty-three years in Atlanta, who graduated from Morris Brown College.

Heading off to Purdue in Indiana to earn a Master of Science degree in computer science in 1971, Cain worked as a ballistics analyst for the US Department of the Navy and eventually ended up in the food and beverage industries. First he returned home to Atlanta to work as a computer systems analyst for the Coca Cola Company. After that, he headed off to Minneapolis, Minnesota to work for Pillsbury. He was then assigned to manage 400 Burger Kings -- a Pillsbury subsidiary at the time -- in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, where he established the BEAMER program of smiling, young employees, who were trained to make customers feel great about their decision to eat at Burger King.

The BK franchises improved so well under Herman Cain's watch in the early 1980s that Pillsbury appointed him as president and CEO of another subsidiary chain, Godfather's Pizza. Cain not only turned the pizza chain around and returned it to profitability, he later partnered to buy out the company from Pillsbury with business investors in 1988. However, as a vital necessity of making the pizza chain successful, Cain closed 200 restaurants, eliminating thousands of jobs in the process. Obviously, the man possessed the tough skin that was needed to downsize a company to make a profit.

Cain next served on the board of directors for the Reserve Bank of Kansas City in the early 1990s, and briefly took over as the chairman. He then returned to the food industry and moved to Washington, D.C., becoming the CEO of the National Restaurant Association, a trade group and lobbying organization. With his sixty-sixth birthday in mid-December, Herman Cain's resume reads like a number of successful and aspiring Americans who have moved up the ladder in business. He worked hard to become a low-level millionaire, fought a recent bought of colon and liver cancer through chemotherapy, and has received a number of honorary degrees from colleges and universities, while serving on the board of directors for various national companies. He has even received the Horatio Alger Award for outstanding Americans who exemplify dedication, purpose and perseverance in their personal lives.

Sounds like a great guy, right? However, from a more economic and political perspective, when Cain took over leadership of the National Restaurant Association, his true colors began to show: green. Under Cain's leadership, the restaurant group lobbied against increases to minimum wage, against mandatory health care benefits, against smoking regulations, and against lowering blood-alcohol limits that determines whether one has been driving under the influence. That sure sounds like a Republican to me. They want you to work for cheap, find your own health care, and you can smoke and drink all you want with the little bit of money that they pay you, because the tobacco and alcohol companies are big businessmen who need your money too. And so are the private insurance companies who wait like vultures to sign you up, and the funeral homes that can't wait to bury you. Hell, as long as you're all cheap and disposable, the Republican businessman can hire and fire you at a dime a dozen anyway.

In other words, I don't see where Mr. Cain supports the common people at all. He tells you to smile to make his customers happy, fires you to make his company profitable, doesn't want to pay you what you're worth, and he doesn't care if you're healthy or not, so he surely doesn't want to help you to pay for your healthcare. Herman Cain was even monumental in fighting against President Bill Clinton's Health Care Plan in the early 1990s by insinuating that he would have to fire thousands of employees to pay for it at town hall meeting with the people of Kansas City. It was also while serving as the CEO of the restaurant lobbying group, where Mr. Cain found himself accused of inappropriate and sexual harassment allegations from several women in the job crunch, forcing his wife Gloria to defend her husband's good character.

I still don't know the man well enough to speculate whether he did or said what he has been accused of, but I will say that "power corrupts" many of us, and Mr. Cain has indeed tasted the strong wine of power. So do the research yourself and come to your own conclusions.

In Cain's move to Washington, he made plenty of Republican ties and connections, beginning to lean toward his own political aspirations. He became a senior advisor for Bob Dole's campaign in 1996, and he briefly ran for the Republican candidacy himself in 2000. In 2004, Cain ran for the Georgia Senate, before working with the Koch family in 2005 -- reportedly the largest privately owned company in the United States -- and their Americans for Prosperity group. This relationship with the Koch family blossomed as the private company enthusiastically embraced Mr. Cain's aspirations for office and funded his campaign. However, in the past, Cain has openly admitted that his various runs for office were more about making a political statement for his beliefs than to actually win an election. So he followed up his earlier stints in politics with an Atlanta-based radio program, The Herman Cain Show, while continuing to collect handsome honorariums to speak on behalf of the Koch family nonprofit.

As early as September 2010, Cain began to hint at running for president office again, participating in a number of Tea Party events, where he became very popular phenomenon on YouTube. That building of national popularity and support led Cain to toss his hat back into the Republican presidential race, officially, in May. He then went on to explain his trending 9-9-9 tax plan, where citizens and businesses alike would all pay a 9% tax for business, personal income and sales.

The rest of Cain's political views read like a Republican credo; he is against welfare, he is against abortion -- except in life-threatening pregnancies -- he is against affirmative-action quotas, he is against legalized marriage of same-sex couples, and so on. Of course, these views all tend to change as candidates are thrown into the political fire in the media. Mr. Cain even teased at supporting President Barack Obama's run for Democratic office in 2008, stating that Obama had a "gift" in oratory skills and that he would consider supporting him "under the right circumstances." But no dice. Cain eventually endorsed Mitt Romney who he is now running against.

At the end of all of my research -- with much more that can be done -- I now repeat what many white Americans repeated right up until the election of President Obama: "I still don't really know this man." And I'm speaking now about Herman Cain. Over time, we all got to know Obama, but with each new presidential candidate, we are forced to start all over again. So I expect that Cain and all of the other Republican hopefuls will reveal themselves shortly, as one after another begin to bail out of the political process, like all candidates are eventually forced to do. But if you were to ask me straight, if I could vote for a black Republican for president, I could honestly say... "Yes... if his name was Colin Powell," because we know him and what he stands for.

And oh yeah, if I remember correctly, Colin Powell became independent enough to support Obama. And for that, I trust his judgment and moral strength enough know that he could "cross the political line" if needed, even as a Republican. Because he understood that we are all Americans first, and certain people, policies and beliefs should be above Democratic or Republican leanings. So let's wait and see what Mr. Cain does or says over the next six months of his presidential run to decide where we stand on it. But as of right now... I still don't know Herman Cain.