It was predictable and laughable. The pack of conservative talk show hosts, bloggers, and web sites all quickly snatched a worn page from Clarence Thomas and screamed that Cain was being mugged by the liberal media on sex harassment charges because he was a black conservative. Some couldn’t resist spicing up their faux righteous indignation by tossing out the glib term “uppity” before “black.” Now this is the same bunch that has practically turned their screech at anything that has to do with race (when it’s blacks and the Democrats) into Biblical scripture.
But it was the sex harassment allegation that was a sure bet to stir conservative’s to flip race baiting on its head to rally around one of their own. There’s really no contradiction here. And Cain is the prime offender. Before the sex charge story broke, Cain thrilled his Tea Party fans and devotees with constant talk that race is meaningless when it comes to his candidacy. He delighted in spinning his heart jerking bootstrap, rags to riches stump tale of his humble family origins, bouts with segregation in a Jim Crow South, sweat of the brow success story as a military man, talk show host, top restaurant official, and major corporate executive. But race was never far from Cain’s mind. He could whip it out whenever he needed it to serve his purpose. In an early campaign interview Cain noted, “I label myself: American black conservative.” But if race didn’t matter to him then why did he insert “black” in between “American” and “conservative.” He got a lot of mileage and the predictable headlines when he blasted blacks for being “brainwashed” for allegedly blindly backing Democrats and Obama and the even more ludicrous quip that he could get a big chunk of the black vote in a head to head match-up with Obama.
This Cain presidential fantasy was adroitly pushed, shoved, and stoked as a possibility by some conservatives who perennially delude themselves that a black conservative can somehow tap into the imagined well-spring of discontent, dismay, and dislike among many blacks of the Democrats. Race is always the centerpiece of this incredible narrative. It was no accident that Thomas grabbed at race when the furor broke during his confirmation hearings in 1991over accusations that he was a serial sexual harasser. Thomas and his conservative handlers quickly realized that his always precarious confirmation hung in the balance if he couldn’t come up with an angle of counter attack that could parry the charges and deflect attention away from his probable conduct. Race, again, was the perfect foil to do that. In this case, he simply stood on its head the ancient race tinged stereotypes of the sexually lascivious and rapacious black man and tossed in the even more loaded term “lynching” to drive the point home. It narrowly worked for Thomas. And the template was permanently set that when a black conservative came under fire for any real or alleged impropriety, indiscretion, or outright crime, there just had to be a racial motive behind the attacks.
The burning question is will the sex harassment charge now that conservatives have welded it firmly to a racial hit on an “uppity” black conservative work? Cain supporters loudly boast that they have raised bushels of money since the scandal broke, and that there has been no dip in his popularity in the polls. He’s supposedly still running strong in recent Nevada, Texas and Florida straw polls. But sexual harassment charges are a volatile and tricky business for a candidate whose candidacy is as fragile as Cain’s. He’s already changed his story several times about what he knew and when he knew it, and what he actually did. There’s a strong, even likely, possibility that one of his accusers may actually publicly shed her legally imposed anonymity and tell all about Cain. If the charges prove credible, then all the racial circling the wagon by Cain’s conservative cheerleaders won’t mean much. He is not Thomas who could play the race card effectively since there was no smoking gun documents, financial settlements or an organization that was privy to his alleged offensive doings with Anita Hill and other women. In Cain’s case there are documents, settlements, and his former organization, the National Restaurant Assn. that was privy to the legal action.
But race no matter what happens in the Cain soap opera won’t fade away. Back to Cain when he first muscled his way onto the big national political stage to make the point that he’s the man to snatch the grand prize he invoked race in his talk at the Republican Leadership Conference last June, shouting “I’ve got another dream for 2012.” The dream is the White House. Conservative’s race card play with Cain in his sexual harassment throes won’t be enough to make that fantasy happen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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