No toaster for Herman Cain
By Wesley Pruden on November 11, 2011
The great media toaster isn’t broken, exactly, but it doesn’t work like it once did. By all accounts, Herman Cain should be toast now, served hot, a bit scorched around the edges and left unbuttered. But try as they might, his tormentors have not yet had him for breakfast.
The tormentors, journalists, lawyers and an assortment of ladies who appear to have been around the block a few times, have so far failed to destroy him and thus his candidacy. They still have to come up with lower-mileage ladies to make the accusations stick with the Republican base.
Mr. Cain’s remarkable—and unexpected—resilience has upset Democrats trying to find hope for change in their 2012 prospects in a reading of Tuesday’s off-year elections and referendums. The easily persuaded are even finding a little. Politico, the Capitol Hill tabloid that sometimes channels a Democratic party organ, concludes that “the Democrats are not dead yet.” But nothing has changed for President Obama. “For many Democratic candidates who will be sharing the ticket with Barack Obama in 2012,” quoth Politico, “the president is not going to be an asset. And in some states, it’s clear he is going to be a dead weight.”
These Democrats take comfort in two referendums, one in Ohio and another in Mississippi. In Ohio, a state with large and well-financed unions, voters repealed a reform law intended to curb unions’ abuse of workers, and in Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected the so-called “Personhood Amendment,” which would have effectively prohibited all abortions anywhere in the state. The amendment was supported, at least tacitly, by nearly every elected official in the state, Democrat and Republican, black and white.
However, Gov. John Kasich, who opposed repeal of the union-reform law in Ohio, remains popular with Republicans, and in Mississippi, Phil Bryant, the Republican, was elected governor in a landslide. Results were similarly mixed on election day across the nation.
The most telling phenomenon this year is the rise and improbable survival of Herman Cain, and what it says about the cheerful goodwill of an oft-maligned American public often accused by liberals of racism, bigotry, indifference, nativism and maybe even mopery. He has done almost everything wrong, as conventional politics is played. He offered conflicting details of his recollections of the allegations against him, and continued to rise in the public-opinion polls in the face of relentless mainstream-media coverage, which has taken everything said against him as gospel and treated his defense as improbable and even a little wicked. He blamed his Republican rivals for leaking misleading accounts of things that happened more than a decade ago. He blamed hacks of the press, who deserve it, but such criticism always sounds like whining. “I am not a creep,” even when true, sounds too much like “I am not a crook.” The checkered history and motives of the anonymous accusers were left unexamined by indifferent editors and lazy reporters posing as gallants and gentlemen.
Still, he has so far escaped the toaster, even when his Republican rivals began to think it was safe to start piling on. Mitt Romney, discreet at first, hinted that it was time for Mr. Cain to come clean. Newt Gingrich, ever the professor unable to stifle a runaway mouth, lectured his “good friend” that he has to “have an answer [to all the questions] and it better be accurate because if it’s not accurate it won’t stand.” You might think that the professor, with the history of emotional abuse of several wives, would have avoided the subject of the sins of others.
The real story here is that racial politics is dead, if the left will allow it. You might think that the prospect, unlikely as it still may be, of a black challenger, nominated by a white conservative party, against a black incumbent president, would be an occasion for cheers, or at least applause. Here’s evidence that the bad old days are swiftly fading into the past. But Mr. Cain is the wrong kind of black man. Some Democrats sneer that the Republicans only found a black man who “knows his place,” employing an insult from an earlier time and place.
The emergence of Mr. Cain as a credible conservative candidate undercuts the liberal canard that the Republican Party is a hopelessly racist party. That was the sub-text of the Democratic campaign four years ago and reprising that for 2012 was nearly all the hope Barack Obama had. Herman Cain’s escape from the toaster, even if temporary, changed that.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.