he night President Barack Obama was elected three years ago, many white Americans experienced a catharsis, a purging of deep-seated guilt and anxiety about race. In Chicago’s Grant Park, where Obama’s victory party occurred, whites and blacks wept and hugged each other. In the coming weeks, personal essays and testaments about Obama’s redemption of America from its barbaric slaveholding past flooded the Internet. And a love-fest lasting several months ensued, with white folks who once said they had black friends actually making some. When Donald Trump threw his dogeared race card on the table earlier this year, impugning Obama’s intellect, Obama’s white “friends” came en masse to his defense, reversing a centuries long national tradition of belittling black intelligence.
On election night 2008, even John McCain acknowledged the significance of America’s election of a black president. As he conceded the race, he said, “This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.” And the Republican Party gestured at racial inclusiveness by later electing Michael Steele chairman of the national committee. But by and large, the redemption that a lot of white folks felt that night was not bi-partisan. Therein lies a potential answer to the question “What is Herman Cain’s appeal to his white Republican base?” Their unwavering support for his candidacy offers them something they can only get by putting a black man into the White House, the Republican equivalent of a Grant Park moment on election night 2012.
What’s Everyone So Happy About?
Almost immediately after the election, much of the the right threw off the gloves and began working to ‘take America back’ from its new Taliban Muslim foreign-born president, spawning the Tea Party and leading to surreal public displays of assault rifles at Obama’s town hall meetings and violent anti-Obama rhetoric. Eventually someone heeded the call for violence, massacring 6 people meeting with Arizona Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nearly assassinating her.
Given such flagrant hostility and aggression towards Obama, when Herman Cain announced his run for presidency, it initially seemed laughable. Surely, as a black man, he would read the political tea leaves, realize the folly of his ways early and drop out of the race after a weak showing at the Iowa primaries. But not only has Cain defied Republicans’ perceived anathema toward nominating a black candidate, he is doing so while facing the most pernicious allegations a black man can face — allegations that he fondled a white woman. And yesterday we learned from NPR that not-only is Cain holding on to his supporters, some are actually increasing their donations to him. Here’s what one such donor — whose race is unspecified — said about the situation:
“It will take a lot more for me to abandon him,” Bensen says. “I mean, we’ve had a president who did a lot worse.”
It’s very tempting to accuse Cain’s supporters of wishful thinking and rehash the prevailing wisdom about the impact of such allegations on a black man’s fate. At the turn of the 19th century, a white leader told a conference gathered in Montgomery, Alabama to discuss ‘race problems,’ “No crime strikes at the integrity of the race or so insults its purity as the crime against white women.” Another speaker at the conference offered this solution to the alleged sexual assaults of white women by black men, “I say hang, if need be Roast [sic] a thousand a week, until they are convinced that at least one hellish phase of their nature must be restrained.”