Breaking the Mold:
Herman Cain and the Rise of Black Conservatives
by Matthew Craig
A New Visions Commentary
paper published August 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
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
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. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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