Herman Cain
Herman Cain presents some unique problems for Democrats, white liberals and the national media. Reuters

The ever-prominent presidential candidacy of Herman Cain raises a plethora of interesting questions, not least of which is how he will be treated by the Democratic Party, white liberals and the mainstream media.

As an African-American Republican, Cain has already been castigated as a kind of “freak” or, at worst, a “traitor” by some of his opponents. However, most of these aspersions have been hurled by prominent blacks, including Princeton Professor Cornell West and entertainer Harry Belafonte.

West said Cain needs to “get off the symbolic crack pipe” and acknowledge the widespread presence of racism. To which, Cain replied: That's the difference between someone who has spent their life in academia and someone who has spent their life in the real world. I've been in the real world. He's been in academia. So he's back on this symbolic stuff ... Professor West has been in academia too long. He is out of touch with the real world.”

Belafonte (the “Calypso king”) derided Cain as a “bad apple.”

In response to Belafonte, Cain stormed: “The only tactic that they [black liberals] have to try and intimidate me and shut me up is to call me names, and this sort of thing. It just simply won't work.”

As for Cain, he has handled the slings and arrows thrust upon him with humor, charm and aplomb -- and with some potentially inflammatory statements. Notably, he has said that black Americans have been “brainwashed” into voting Democrat and also boasted that he escaped the Democratic “plantation” long ago.

Meanwhile, if Cain’s campaign continues to gain momentum, the mainstream media will have to deal with him – and it will be fascinating to see how they acquit themselves.

Aside from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal (both of which are controlled by Rupert Murdoch and clearly espouse a conservative, right-wing bias, whether they admit it or not), most mainstream, big-time media outlets in the U.S. are, to put it mildly, left-of-center.

Thus far, most conservative media has praised Cain, while liberal outlets have either been mildly negative or maintained a cold distance.

For example, Cain told conservative radio host Neal Boortz on Tuesday: A lot of these liberal, leftist folk in this country, that are black, they're more racist than the white people that they're claiming to be racist… How dare Herman Cain, first, run as a Republican? How dare Herman Cain be conservative? And how dare he move up in the polls, so that he just might challenge our beloved [President Barack] Obama? That's the problem they have.

These contentious remarks seemed like a direct challenge to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Obama himself.

Indeed, perhaps most controversially, Cain has questioned Obama’s “blackness.”

He's [Obama] never been part of the black experience in America, Cain told reporters. I can talk about that. I can talk about what it really meant to be 'po' before I was poor.

As risky as this remark might have been, it was a brilliant gambit by Cain -- as a black American man from the Deep South who grew up under segregation he has turned the tables on Obama and his supporters by pointing out that the president (who is of mixed race and grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia) has little or no familiarity with the “authentic” black American experience.

Thus, he is painting Obama as a benefactor of civil rights legislation and a more enlightened racial landscape in the U.S.

In effect, Cain strengthened the issue of his own “legitimacy” as a black man and as a presidential candidate.

However, the most incendiary statement Cain has made was probably his assertion that blacks no longer face significant prejudice, and that too many blacks blame their poverty on racism.

They [blacks] weren't held back because of racism, Cain told CNN. People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.

Similarly, Cain issued some choice words of criticism at the protesters of “Occupy Wall Street.”

Regarding his disdain for the anti-Wall Street protesters, Cain talked of how hard his parents worked and overcame social barriers.

“[My father] was a barber and a janitor and a chauffeur,” he told Fox News. “He worked three jobs until he could make it off two, and he worked two until he could make it off one. This is why I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who believe that this country owes them something.”

Indeed, Cain’s remarks on race have elicited some outrage – but primarily from other blacks.

Television broadcaster Tavis Smiley told CNN: There are disparities in this country in every [socioeconomic] factor that we follow. In every aspect of our human endeavors in this country there is a racial disparity element that's a part of it. It's almost silly to respond to [Cain] because the evidence is so overwhelming,

Cain is not only a conservative Southern Christian, but also a proud member of the Tea Party (a group that some blacks and others have accused of racism).

However, Cain is an all-American success story. As a corporate employee, he climbed the ladders at Pillsbury and Burger King and ultimately ascended to the top of Godfather Pizza.

Defending his stance, he told Sean Hannity (a hard-core white Republican) of Fox: “I don't have a lot of patience for people who want to blame racism on the fact that some people don't make it in America. One of the greatest things about this country, Sean, and I have experienced it, if you put your mind to it and you don't play the victim card, you can do whatever you want to do in this country. I am walking proof of that.”

The rhetoric against Cain is bound to intensify, especially if he keeps winning polls and seriously challenges front-runner Mitt Romney for the nomination.

At some point, “liberal” media (i.e., CNN, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, etc.) will start to criticize and attack Cain -- but they will have to be extremely careful. They simply do not know how to handle a black conservative -- while they will vociferously condemn his views on taxes, abortion, homosexuality, etc., they will be diligent to avoid sounding racially biased. This will involve a very delicate tightrope walk.

If any verbal assaults on Cain have even the slightest hint of underlying racism, liberal media’s very message would be undermined and possibly endangered.

My guess is that Romney will secure the nomination (after all, he has a far better and well-established campaign organization behind him) and liberal media will breathe a huge sigh of relief. At that point it will be open-season on Romney – the wealthy, pampered (and white) country club Republican candidate.

The biggest irony in all this is that many black American adults (especially Southern Baptists like Cain) are extremely conservative on most social issues. For example, a few years ago, Proposition 8, a vote on banning same-sex marriage in California, won reportedly because of strong anti-gay opposition among blacks in the state.

I believe that a Cain candidacy (and more so, election as President) would represent nothing less than a watershed event in black American life and politics (much more so than Obama’s election).

[Also see here.]