Not “Obama vs. McCain” — that was back in 2008. I’m talking about Herman Cain, the conservative African-American businessman who’s polling strongly in his run for the GOP presidential nomination. What would happen if, by some chance, Cain got the nod in 2012 and ran against Obama? What would it mean if two Blacks competed for the biggest political prize in America?
This brings up another question: “What is the status of a right-wing Black person in America?” My answer: beleaguered. A Black on the right is hated by (1) racists, simply because he or she is Black; (2) liberals, because s/he looks like a traitor; and (3) Blacks, because s/he appears to them as an Uncle Tom.
A few African-American conservatives can serve as examples. If you’re a liberal, you’re inclined to think of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a hateful, perverted (“Is this a pubic hair?”) wingnut … Allan Keyes? Wingnut … Condoleezaa Rice? Naive (but likeable) wingnut. If you’re Black, you’re likely proud of their success but embarrassed because, you know, wingnut.
With all these odds against them, don’t expect to find too many Black conservatives out there in the cold.
Speaking of Justice Thomas, House Democrats lately have taken up arms against him, claiming he hid his wife’s political income instead of reporting it as required. Of course Thomas demurs. The issue is nuanced and murky, but when has that stopped politicos from joining the fray? The Democrats’ goal, it would seem, is either to give Thomas a black eye (pardon the pun) or to badger him into resigning. He is famously reclusive and bitter toward the press, so harassing him into quitting isn’t that farfetched an idea. Impeachment, meanwhile, is a long shot: the House, which would vote on an indictment, is currently in GOP hands. Either way, President Obama could nominate a liberal to replace Thomas, so there’s a big prize in it for the Left. Failing that, they’d at least have gained a media win by casting a cloud over Thomas — and, by association, over his wife and conservatives in general.
The next question is, “When will Blacks generally feel it’s acceptable to be conservative?” An activist might answer, “When all our goals for African Americans have been met.” Presumably only a complete victory would preserve Black rights and equalities for all time, after which everyone would feel safe to pursue individual political beliefs.
But that’s like saying, “You must not be free until everyone is free,” which leads to an endless wait, as perfection is generally unattainable in this universe. It’s like insisting, “Nobody can be happy until everyone is happy,” or “Nobody can prosper unless everyone prospers” — no one will ever get there at all. We need some successes as examples. And early achievers, turning around and reaching out, can help others to vault up to their own rewards. Likewise, a Black America with plenty of conservatives (as well as liberals and moderates) becomes an example that everyone can learn from.
Finally, it’s a poor excuse for assimilation if an entire minority won’t fully intermingle with any type of social or political organization. Being standoffish doesn’t do them any good with conservatives. Besides, African Americans have a lot to be conservative about — street gangs, unwed moms, and drug use, among other issues. Plus there are strong arguments from fiscal conservatives against federal policies — on jobs, housing, entitlements — that, while well-intentioned, often do more harm than good for inner-city minorities. On top of that, evangelical churches popular among Blacks have deeply conservative roots that spread into the local culture. So the idea of large numbers of Black conservatives is not really that hard to imagine after all.
And we circle back to Herman Cain. His candidacy raises many issues and opportunities for Black voters. I’d argue that such a candidacy would be all to the good for African Americans for a number of reasons:
(1) It guarantees a Black in the White House in 2013, regardless of which candidate wins;
(2) it allows White conservatives — most of whom insist they aren’t racist in their opposition to President Obama — to put their money where their mouth is;
(3) it legitimizes full Black participation in all reaches of the political spectrum;
(4) it shows the world how cool we Americans can be.
Maybe Cain will implode or simply fail to beat the odds. Still, it’s an interesting scenario that brings to the fore the kinds of issues we all do well to ponder.