31 Oct 2011

How much Herman can the American public take?

“Let Herman be Herman”. It has become the unlikely campaign slogan of one of the most unlikely candidates in a presidential race so full of novelty and surprise; it illustrates the fickle and indecisive nature of a country on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Who would have thought that a Mormon –that would be Mitt Romney- would be the most conventional horse in the race?

But today’s flavour is called Herman Cain. The black son of a cleaning leady and a chauffeur – his father used to drive the CEO of Coca Cola – Cain grew up in Atlanta, studied ballistic mathematics and entered the catering business with spectacular success.

He took over and saved Godfather’s Pizza, the discerning glutton’s Pizza Hut. He became head of the National Restaurant Association, one of America’s most powerful lobby groups, representing the collective clout of fast food titans like McDonalds, Burger king and Ihop, and he has never held a political office.

These days politics is such a dirty word that any lack of experience is almost a requirement for success. It is with this in mind that I interviewed Cain about a year ago on BBC Radio Four’s Americana. We used him as an example that in America anyone really can try and become President. He was blunt, self effacing, funny and articulate. His 999 tax reform plan, the centre piece of his campaign has been seriously discussed by serious people. And I would never have dreamt that an African American candidate could get this far in the predominantly white Republican Party, even beating fellow candidate Governor Rick Perry in the polls in his own state of Texas. So the laugh is on us. So far anyway.

But with popularity comes scrutiny and with scrutiny comes baggage – today of a potentially embarrassing nature. When Cain ran the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s he was accused by two employees of sexual harassment.

Today he denied the charges categorically even though he was more weasel worded about the fact that the association gave the two accusers a settlement with a non disclosure clause. Cash for silence. Could this become Cain’s Clinton moment long before he has even got anywhere near the White House?

Mitt Romney, the man who has flat-lined at just above 20 percent in the polls and who the Republicans just can’t learn to love must be praying that it is. As for Barack Obama, he is probably wondering how bizarre it would be to face off against a black candidate called Herman.

Cain prides himself on his irreverent, novel approach to presidential politics but singing about Jesus at a news conference minutes after denying a scandal that could sink him really is a case of letting “Herman be Herman”. The question is how much Herman is the American public really ready for?

Tweets by @mattfrei

8 reader comments

  1. Yorkshire Lass says:

    I can’t answer your last question but in the UK a very little goes a very long way – too far in fact. It seems that the Republican party is obsessed by god-botherers – and we really need that now, don’t we?

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    Nothing surprises me in the rigged circus that is US politics. It is beyond parody now.

    But what else do you expect from the system that gave us Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Bush 1 and 2 and Barack Obama – ESPECIALLY Reagan and the Bush crew?

    The American public is largely irrelevant in these matters. What matters is whether the candidates will do as they’re told by the neoNazis who own and run the US.

    Thought you drifted close to the wind with your nahn nahn nahn question, though. What right does an English-German have to josh anybody about accents? Ask Krishnan :-)

  3. sam says:

    America loves a buffoon for president because most understand its just a symbolic role anyway. Its the oligarchs who actually run the country. All GOP candidates are running on the premise that they want to dismantle any social provisions that government provides just leaving the military industrial complex, authoritarian police and federal enforcement agencies who cultivate a climate of war, crime and discontent to justify their existence. If any of these candidates succeeded in presiding over the leaner meaner country they advocate it would lead to the tipping point for all out class civil war.

  4. Liverpooluni says:

    Will you ever mention Ron Paul? Please do not be as dismissive of him as the American media. He has been doing consistently well, give him some coverage.

  5. Saltaire Sam says:

    My understanding of the 999 policy is that it hits poorer and middle income people at the expense of the rich. Surely the American people aren’t so convinced they can all become billionaires if they work hard to fall for this?

  6. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    As you say popularity is scrutinised,but I cannot believe that individuals who rise quickly into important positions and those of popularity have not previously been ‘dirtied’ in order that the powers that be can oust them if they don’t get their own way.
    Obama has set a precident though and we will see more black presidents and senators.

  7. byrdele says:

    I hate to say it as a loyal American citizen. But I am beginning to agree with a bumper sticker I once saw: “Elect Nobody”. I wonder, if we had an election and no one came, what would happen? The worst case scenarios is the same clowns would try to hold on to office. But, if we refused to pay the taxes that support their enormous salaries, health benefits, retirement, their junkets… well, what would they do? Hmmm, it’s worth a thought when I see the line up of candidates we have right now – both Republican and Democrat. Frankly, I am hoping that everyone, if they do elect “Somebody”, votes for a so-called Third Party Candidate (Green, Libertarian… I don’t even care which) and we end up with the most interesting Congress and Presidential Office this country has ever had.
    OK, ramble is over.

  8. byrdele says:

    A p.s. from the American here. It is really too bad that Herman is being accused of sexual misconduct. If he is guilty, that is even more of a shame. Political experience or not (in fact, that might be a plus – we’ve tried the politicians and seen how THAT has worked out – not!). So let’s try someone fresh and new and ESPECIALLY someone with as much business sense as Herman has. Run this country, if Americans do not agree with my former comment of electing nobody, like a business. I, for one, don’t care about religion – I am a serious Christian. But I also believe (based on Bible and precedent) that God can use anyone if He has it in mind. Not that Herman is a donkey, but in the Old Testament, God used a donkey to warm the false prophet Balaam that an angel was trying to kill him. Therefore I hope that Herman can disprove the allegation and I just might vote for him if he does. Even if he does sing about Jesus at a press conference. The man is obviously a doer and a go getter and knows how money works.

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