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?