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Sunday 6 November 2011

Cain is well able to win the White House nomination

The Republicans may have found a candidate who can fend off racist slurs from Obama supporters, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Herman Cain -- currently seeking the Republican nomination -- is hot in Indiana, where I've just been. Hoosiers -- as they call themselves for disputed reasons -- see themselves as no-nonsense types who hate being talked down to.

They would love their popular governor, Mitch Daniels -- who manages to be intelligent and effective and yet stay a man of the people -- to run for the presidency, but his family have vetoed it. His wife of 15 years divorced him in 1993, married a doctor in California and remarried Daniels in 1997. She is, apparently, an intensely private person who fears she would suffer invasive scrutiny over this.

As if to prove her right, the liberal media are now gleefully talking up allegations that when Cain was CEO of the National Restaurant Association, two women who alleged he had sexually harassed them were given a financial settlement; a third claims he told her she was attractive and invited her to his apartment. The liberals Cain so excoriates are delighted: his supporters point out that sexual-harassment claims are an everyday feature of corporate life and that it's cheaper to pay off even vexatious claimants; others say, 'So what?'

Republicans with long memories cite another black conservative, Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 was nominated by George Bush Senior for a seat in the US Supreme Court. Bitterly opposed by liberals, he was interrogated crassly during confirmation hearings over excruciatingly detailed testimony from Anita Hill, a feminist ex-colleague, that he had made her unwelcome sexual overtures. "This is a circus," he said. "And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a hi-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree."

Thomas eventually won narrowly, but the episode is a toxic memory. A fundraising email sent on Thursday from 'Americans for Herman Cain' was entitled: 'Don't let the media "lynch" another black Conservative.' Blacks who hate Cain's opposition to affirmative action and his insistence that racism is no big deal in America these days are queuing up to denounce him as a Bad Apple, an Uncle Tom and even a 'House-Negro' doing the bidding of the white master. Cain enthusiasts are retaliating with a range of mocking bumper-stickers designed to infuriate his opponents, particularly all those who shouted 'racist' at those who disliked Obama: 'You voted for Obama to prove you're not racist, now vote for Cain to prove you're not stupid', 'Yes we Cain', 'Cain 50 per cent more black, 100 per cent more American', 'My guy is blacker than your guy. Who's the racist now?' and my favourite, 'Honkeys for Herman'.

In this they're following Cain's lead: "People who oppose Obama are said to be racists," he explained. "So I guess I'm a racist."

Untried though he is, with suspect health, ignorant about matters abroad and with a taxation policy that doesn't add up, and though the sexual allegations are potentially lethal, Cain climbs the polls and still poses a major challenge to seasoned opponents like dull Mitt Romney. Audiences love his humour and plain man's rhetoric, with lines like: "I majored in math but I never took a course in political correctness." After Sarah Palin dismissed him as "flavour of the week", he said his flavour of choice was Haagen Daz Black Walnut.

Lampooned on TV for his background as the chairman of Godfather's Pizza, he laughed and adopted their line: 'I will deliver'. His admirers love his dismissal of the inhabitants of the Washington 'bubble' as "stupid people who are ruining America", that he speaks of the wisdom of "the real people" and that he has a message of cheerful self-reliance. They laugh when a solemn question about what energy policy he will pursue immediately on reaching the White House is answered with: "First thing, I'll have a nap." They approve that he's running a "lean and mean" campaign and promises to run the country the same way, and they cheer his libertarian instincts. There was a shocked media response when his campaign manager, Mark Block, was seen smoking in a Cain advertisement. Challenged by a sententious interviewer who said he was an offended cancer-survivor, Cain just laughed and said so was he, but "Mark is Mark".

"We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen, but then America has never seen a candidate like Herman Cain," said Block. He's right. It's unlikely but not impossible that Cain can win the Republican nomination and somewhere there must be a potential candidate better equipped to defeat the unpopular Obama. But just now, Cain is hot. And not just in Indiana.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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