For a presidential candidate that claims race is meaningless when it comes to his candidacy, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain sure takes great delight in rubbing race in the faces of his white conservative backers every chance he gets. He opened his speech at the recent Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous words, "I have a Dream." Later, in an interview Cain flatly said, "I label myself: American black conservative." But if race doesn't matter to him then why did he insert "black" in between "American" and "conservative."
But Cain's not so subtle way of playing the race card is meant to denounce civil rights leaders, black Democrats and, of course, President Obama, for allegedly tacitly or overtly playing on race to score political points, pander to black voters, and cower Democrats into backing tax and spend, expanded government programs, tougher civil rights laws, and affirmative action. Cain loudly declares that this smacks of the new plantationism. This is the pejorative label that black conservatives gleefully picked up from some blacks who criticized the Democratic Party for allegedly taking the black vote for granted while doing nothing to earn their vote and then lambasting any black politician who dares to stray from the Democrat's plantation. Cain, of course, is his own best example of that politician.
Cain's anti-race race talk is not new. The first thing out of his mouth when he addressed a group of conservative New Hampshire Republicans on the eve of his announcement back in March that he was going for the GOP presidential nomination was that they shouldn't blame him for a "bad" black president. The "bad" black president supposedly is President Obama. Cain perpetually makes racial digs at Obama and other black Democrats to make the claim that their success rests squarely on their stoking of white guilt.
Cain and the black conservatives that perpetuate this baseless myth blow off the skill, expertise, policy acumen and hard work it took to make Obama the successful politician that he is. They ignore the sex and financial corruption scandals in the GOP and Bush's towering foreign and domestic bungles, and the near crash of the economy on the Bush watch, that did much to turn the GOP into damaged goods with millions of voters in 2008. But Cain, to hear him tell it, is different. There's no white guilt in the political DNA of the legions of conservative whites that cheer him. He's their darling because as one southern white GOP voter put it, he believes in personal responsibility and that transcends race. The presumption is that blacks and Democrats believe in government handouts and scream racism at every turn to get that handout.
Cain turned back to race in his address at the Conservative Political Action Committee confab earlier this year when he shouted that anyone white who dares criticize Obama will be branded a racist. Cain must have been gripped by amnesia. Assorted Tea Party activists and leaders, right-wing bloggers, and radio and TV talk jocks have hectored and savaged Obama with open and borderline racial digs, innuendoes, taunts and depictions from the moment he stepped foot in the White House. GOP congressional leaders have relentlessly hammered him if he even sneezed wrong. They didn't seem to have any problem pulling their punches against him because he's black.
So this raises the intriguing question: What chance does Cain really have to get the legions of conservative grass-roots voters, Tea Party leaders and activists, who now appear to revel in Cain, to actually punch the vote tab for him?
A 2006 Yale study found that white Republicans were 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near 20-year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.
But that was a decade ago, and since then black GOP congressional candidates Allen West in Florida and Tim Scott in South Carolina got a majority of white votes and easily beat their Democratic opponents. But West and Scott won in lockdown GOP districts, and against weak, underfunded, Democratic opponents. Their wins were regional wins with absolutely no national implications.
Cain is now trying to muscle his way onto the big stage, and he's trying to bag the big prize, the GOP nomination, and beyond, the White House. So what did Cain do to make the point that he's the man best able to snatch the grand prize? In his talk at the Republican Leadership Conference he, of course, invoked race, shouting "I've got another dream for 2012." The dream is that he will be the next president. For a candidate that purports his candidacy is not about race, he sure knows how to play the race card every chance he gets.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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