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Herman Cain, I'd Still Like To Have A Beer With You

Matt Pressberg |
December 6, 2011 | 2:29 a.m. PST

Staff Columnist

Herman Cain (Creative Commons)
Herman Cain (Creative Commons)

Dear Herman:

I can’t lie; I was saddened when you announced that you were suspending your campaign. I’m going to miss your presence on the trail probably more than that of any other presidential candidate who didn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses.

First, you deserve congratulations for your unprecedented success in running a campaign based on pride in ignorance. I can see why you are such a gifted salesman and you do have considerable personal charisma. I may disagree with almost all of your policies, but I wouldn’t vote you off a reality show. Maybe that’s a lot more relevant to American politics than we’d like to believe …

I want to get the following out of the way early, because it’s probably the one thing about your campaign that despite the fun, games and malapropisms, may have bothered me the most:

You were the black friend racist white men never actually wanted, but could latch on to as a convenient rebuttal when called out on their racism. How in the world could I be a racist, I played golf with ol’ Herman just last week! The Confederate flag is just a symbol of Southern heritage!

You not only failed to challenge their bigotry, but knowingly winked at it, co-signed it and added some astonishingly insensitive words of your own. Your backwards worldview was an unwelcome successor to the inclusiveness of Barack Obama’s, and generally offensive to most younger Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Only old racist white men believe your Jackie Mason foreign policy is the answer. Younger Americans have plenty of minority friends and many have discovered the joy of miscegenation.  They don’t find Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan hilarious. That’s up there with “what kind of a name is LaMarcus?” when watching basketball with the elderly.

Now to your women troubles:

I defended you at first when the vague “unwanted sexual advances” allegations emerged in that Politico report. After all, there is a word for a man who has never made an unwanted sexual advance. That word is: virgin.

However, more and increasingly unsavory stories came out and it became clear that even if these allegations were eventually deemed false, their sheer volume and nature had caused irreparable damage to any hopes you had of winning the nomination. Newt has his own baggage, but it has been processed by the media already; yours was new. Mitt Romney may have 99 (percent) problems, but a bitch ain’t one. More on this later.

Herman, your ill-conceived 9-9-9 plan and Libya mad libs underlined your utter lack of policy expertise and foreign affairs knowledge, which was both amusing for snarky observers like me, but sad because you were at one point polling as a legitimate presidential candidate. Your lack of background knowledge would seem to doom any candidate, but it was the other head that eventually did you in.

Your general likability and (despite my disdain for the word, it is appropriate here) swagger is primarily why you achieved as much as you did as a candidate. 

Aspiring elected officials like yourself have to find a certain balance in their public personas. Americans find sleazy Berlusconi-type behavior patently unappealing in their political candidates, but they seem to like a small element of mischief, or at least the potential for it. Clinton, W. and Obama all had that; Slick Willie maybe a little too much, but some of the more colorful aspects of their personal histories seemed to give them a little more “character”, which made them more relatable and ultimately electable.

See Herman, voters like the fact that you are flirty and playful with women; they like that you are able to marry the serious and extravagant life of a corporate executive with down-home mannerisms and proud lack of interest in worldly things.   

Personal charm is a drug that can be easily abused. The same charm that led a relatively unknown talk-radio host to the top of the Republican polls also led to your demise as a candidate. You thought you could charm you way out of these allegations, because, "This is Herman Cain!" I love the brazen arrogance of the third person as much as the next man, but Matt Pressberg thinks your proclivity for using it was a good indication of what would eventually be your downfall. 

Tennyson’s famous quote is “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  I think this adequately summarizes both the 2012 Republican presidential primary election and your place in it.

You came from nowhere, rapidly attracted that “love” from your base, and were quickly “lost” as increased media scrutiny dragged your campaign down the well-worn path to exposure and dissolution.

This takes me back to my point about the long-anointed front-runner, Willard Mitt Romney. While the GOP may only have had a short fling with you, at least at one point in time there was a legitimate spark. Mitt Romney is the definition of “never to have loved at all”.

The “who would you like to have a beer with” criteria we judge political candidates by may seem hokey and insulting to our collective intelligence on its surface, but it does seem to matter come election time. Michael Dukakis and John Kerry would probably agree with me; neither could inspire working-class men and both underperformed relative to expectations.  If Mitt manages to choke away the 2012 Republican nomination, he has only his personal unlikability to blame.

Is there any candidate in recent memory Republican men would rather have a beer with than you?

You are the life of the party; Mitt doesn’t even drink. You make the same comments that many of us do amongst our friends when our presence is graced by an exceedingly well-built woman; Mitt probably averts his eyes. Your problem was allegedly committing adultery, Mitt’s problem is that nobody believes he actually is capable of committing adultery. 

People are not inspired by Mitt because aside from his money, nobody is really vicariously living through Mitt. We’d much rather get hammered with the Hermanator than sing Christmas carols with the Romneys. The GOP base hides behind the most vanilla veil of wholesomeness but what did they cheer at the debates? Torture, not being a good dad, an electric fence on the border, not marital fidelity. 

You understood this. As a talk radio host, you spoke every day with the rank and file base and found out what was important to them. They were decidedly not looking for the Massachusetts Mannequin, but for a plainspoken culture warrior to “take this country back” from Hussein the socialist Nazi. Being African-American yourself, you were even more perfect, as the anecdotal fact of one man’s skin color could be used as a lazy, sham defense for any charges of racism linked to the type of anti-Obama rhetoric that was a driving force behind your campaign.

Herman, you shot to prominence with all your anti-nuance bravado, insulting both our intelligence and our women in the process, yet your departure leaves me feeling empty inside. I prefer when the less book-friendly element of the GOP embraces anti-intellectualism like yours rather than the quasi-intellectualism of child labor advocate Newt Gingrich. Some of those terms and concepts are too big and complex for them to work correctly into arguments and their political monologues end up having all the coherence of a Little Carmine speech.

Having said all that, you are “a leader, not a reader,” so I’ll heed your advice and sum it up accordingly.

You managed to be a serious candidate without being a serious person; there is a lesson in that but it might be too early to figure out exactly what it is. You rode your swagger and confidence to the top of the poll, but the gift of charisma and your unshakable believe in your own preeminence blinded you to the mounting pitfalls and eventually led to your demise. 

You are the businessman Mitt Romney is, but also the “real” man Mitt Romney is not. Mitt is looking to capture the “Nobama” vote, but your close relationship with the base gives you certain insights awkward Mitt does not have. The sentiment is a lot stronger than “Nobama”.  It’s “F*** Obama, and if you like him, f*** you too!”

This is the campaign you ran, and in your next career as a primetime Fox News host, is going to be the core message you push. He’s African-American, cosmopolitan and articulate; you are also African-American, but ignorant and insular.  You are rich and charismatic without challenging the biases and bigotry of your base. It took no nuance or self-awareness to get where you are, so why should you ask it of them?

Your base wants no part of change, because change challenges their assumptions. Your novel face and homespun manner on old bigotry just allowed them to reinforce the disdain they seem to have against the world as embodied by Barack Obama. He’s too exotic, but you’re an African-American man from Georgia who talks like one of them and effectively co-signs some of their most regrettable biases. 

Anyway, I’ve gone on much too long. Good luck to you and your family, and I believe you will have much financial success in your next career.

Isn’t that what’s always mattered most?



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