Monday, December 5, 2011

The Meaning of Herman Cain

Well, it's over. The Hermanator has left the Republican race, and it's time to assess what his candidacy actually signified for this country. For a brief period after Obama's election, commentators loved to use the phrase "post-racial America." Well, we're not quite there yet, but Herman Cain's candidacy was another step in that direction.

However, Cain's candidacy was important not simply because he's a black man. Black men have had the public eye before in this country, and even aspired to high office. Frederick Douglass was the first black American to achieve national prominence, and he was truly extraordinary: a self-educated man who founded and edited his own newspaper, and became a successful author and public lecturer. Martin Luther King was one of the most eloquent speakers in American history, a man of outstanding courage, and a brilliant political strategist. Thurgood Marshall was a gifted lawyer who successfully argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court before his own appointment as a justice.

In other words, in the past a black man had to actually be intelligent and capable to be in the public eye—arguably, be better than everybody else. But Herman Cain doesn't know where Libya is, doesn't realize China already has nuclear weapons, thinks "Cuban" is a language, and demonstrated that he and his staff are absolutely incompetent at damage control.

And he was the Republican front-runner for president.

Just like Harold and Kumar showed us it's okay for Asians to be slackers, Herman Cain showed us it's okay for a black man to be an ignorant jackass. Without belittling Herman Cain's accomplishment in bringing us to this point on the long road to racial equality, he did have some help along the way. First there were all those white guys who showed us it was okay to be an ignorant jackass and still run for vice-president and president. Then there was that black guy who showed us it was okay to be an ignorant jackass (and somebody who abuses power to get sex) and sit on the Supreme Court.

We've come a long way.

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