Politics Mondays: Breaking the Mold: Herman Cain and the Rise of Black Conservatives by Matthew Craig
Herman Cain has risen from meager beginnings to the pinnacle of the business world. Now he's now looking to apply his skills to the world of politics. His experience, coupled with his characteristic determination, make this black conservative a serious contender for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.
Cain isn't from an affluent background. He rose through the ranks of Pillsbury and Burger King to become one of the most influential men in American business. Add to this his experience as the CEO of Godfather's Pizza and a director and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, and Cain's ability and drive to succeed is clear.
Cain made national news in 1994 when, as president of the National Restaurant Association, he challenged President Bill Clinton on Clinton's plans to nationalize health care. At a televised town hall meeting, he asked: "Mr. President, on behalf of all the small-business owners, what will I tell those people whose jobs would be eliminated under your health care plan?" It was a defining moment for both men, and Cain's outspoken manner is considered a factor in the defeat of the Clinton health care scheme.
Why is a successful businessman such as Herman Cain now willing to take a cut in pay and seek a life of public service? Cain says he admires the Bush Administration's convictions so much that he wants to give the President a stronger Senate majority. Bush still hopes to confirm his judicial nominees, continue to promote economic growth and enact pro-family social policies. He can't do this without a stronger conservative base in Congress.
Despite ten percent black support in the 2000 presidential election, 41 percent of African-Americans supported President George W. Bush in 2002, according to a Black America's Political Action Committee poll. African-Americans also increasingly favor conservative policies including school vouchers, Social Security reform and economic growth. It makes sense that conservative African-Americans are now stepping forward to aid the President.
If Cain is elected next November, he will join the growing ranks of black officeholders. He'll also join an even smaller club of black conservative politicians, and endure the hardships commonly associated with this latter distinction.
Conservative African-Americans are a persecuted minority in politics. The NAACP openly opposed black conservative Gary Franks, a former congressman from Connecticut, when he ran for office. Later, Frank's conservative ideology caused fellow Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) member Bill Clay to write a six-page letter in which he called Franks a "Negro Dr. Kervorkian" and his ideology a "foot shuffling, head scratching, 'Amos and Andy' brand of 'Uncle Tom-ism.'" The CBC - set up as a means of promoting black politicians - refused to denounce these statements, and even hampered Franks' attempts to participate in the caucus as a full member.
Another former representative, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, faced similar problems. From the start, Watts refused to affiliate with the CBC due to its steadfast liberal ideological orientation. No longer serving in the House, Watts is now chairman of GOPAC, a conservative organization devoted to developing grassroots conservative candidates. Recruiting more minority candidates is one of his priorities.
Despite this daunting political environment, black conservatives are springing up in ever-increasing numbers. Politicians such as Sherman Parker, Deputy Majority Whip in the Missouri House of Representatives, New Hampshire House of Representatives Majority Whip Rogers Johnson and Jennette Bradley of Ohio - the first female black lieutenant governor in America - are just a few examples of this growing group.
Herman Cain attributes his success to one thing: passion. "I have been blessed with success because I have approached difficult situations with a passionate belief in what is possible," he says. It is this passion that brought him success in the business world.
In many ways, Herman Cain is a vanguard for an emerging conservative black America. These individuals combine the determination characteristic of the black community with an entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to the family that benefits African-Americans and the nation as a whole.
Matthew Craig is a research associate of the African-American leadership network Project 21. He can be e-mailed at the following address: Project21@nationalcenter.org
Monday, September 15, 2003