This week, Mark Meckler, one of the national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, told the Washington Post that recently declared presidential candidate Herman Cain “is a lot more like us than anyone who has run for president in our lifetimes.”
His comment got me thinking: Is Herman Cain really more like the average tea partier than anyone who’s run for president in the past 60 years? More than Ron Paul? More than Ronald Reagan?? On the surface, Cain and the tea partiers have some pretty striking differences. The most obvious one is that Cain is black and 94 percent of tea partiers are white. Cain grew up in the segregated South drinking from the “colored” water fountains. Many tea partiers would have been on the white side. But putting those big glaring differences aside, are there other things that Cain and the tea partiers genuinely have in common? I came up with a few.
Goofy hats: Tea partiers are famous for wearing tricorne hats. Cain doesn’t wear one of those, but he does have a thing for black cowboy hats.
Fanatic (but often wrong) about the Constitution: Both Cain and the tea partiers share this particular trait. They revere the Constitution but don’t seem to know exactly what’s in it. (Remember when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she wouldn’t fill out her US Census forms fully because the Constitution said she didn’t have to?) When Cain announced last month that he would be officially running for president, he included in his speech a big lecture about how Americans need to reread the Constitution. He said:
We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” don’t stop there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says “when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do!
The Constitution does not actually say this. That was the Declaration of Independence.
Closet Culture Warriors: Tea partiers have tried to stress their concern with fiscal issues like the budget deficit and to downplay divisive social issues like abortion. But polling data shows that they aren’t so different from the Christian Coalition of old: White, evangelical Republicans. It’s not uncommon to see bloody fetus posters at tea party rallies. On this issue, Cain and the tea partiers are in agreement.
Cain’s presidential website doesn’t even mention abortion. But when he ran for Congress in 2004, he made abortion the centerpiece of his campaign, declaring opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. During the 2006 midterm congressional election, Cain spent a million bucks running an ad campaign in competitive congressional districts that encouraged black voters to pull the lever for Republicans because of abortion.
One of the ads went like this:
Unidentified male voice: "… So, I suppose you want me to vote Republican, like you and your soldier buddies?"
Cain: "Not at all, you've got no reason to."
UMV: "How's that?"
Cain: "Well you don't work for a living, so what do you care about keeping taxes low?"
UMV: "Hey that's cold!"
Cain: "You cheat on your wife, so why would you want an amendment to protect marriage?"
UMV (Proudly): "Hey, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do…!"
Cain: "And if you make a little mistake with one of your hos, you'll want to dispose of that problem tout suite [quickly], no questions asked."
UMV: "No, now that's too cold! I don't snuff my own seed."
Cain: "Huh? Really? Well maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican!"
Black people aren't fans: Since the very emergence of the movement, tea partiers have fended off allegations or racism. Tea party signs referring to taxpayers as “niggers” and depicting President Obama as a monkey haven’t helped. Not surprisingly, African-Americans have not flocked to the movement. Polls show that only about 6 percent of tea partiers are black.
Herman Cain may be in that 6 percent, but he’s not much more popular among African Americans, a fact he has acknowledged. His 2006 anti-abortion ads have won scorn from black columnists like Clarence Page, but even regular black voters are wary. The Washington Post recently interviewed a woman who grew up across the street from Cain in a black neighborhood in Atlanta. The Post reports:
Saunja Lawson, 69, lived across the street from him growing up. She called Cain a “beautiful person” who wouldn’t get her vote. His tea party association, she said, had proved vexing. “A lot of people in the community are very shocked because of the upbringing he had,” she said.
Given all that, perhaps Meckler is right: Herman Cain and the tea partiers do have a lot in common, even if they haven’t always sipped from the same water fountain.