By JAMES TARANTO
Reader Jeryl Bier, who passed along the piece from CNN.com, took offense at the headline:
"Cain's Race Not as Big an Issue With Conservatives as Obama's Was Three Years Ago."
Writes Bier: "There is absolutely nothing in the article that supports the headline. Where is the evidence that Obama's race was an issue with conservatives three years ago? On the contrary, his supporters are much more vocal about Obama's race than his detractors are."
True--so true, in fact, that it looks to us as though the headline writer was sloppy rather than tendentious. The comparison is between conservatives' reaction to Cain today and liberals' reaction to Obama then, or, to put it another way, between Cain's and Obama's appeal to the respective party bases.
The text makes that quite clear. As reporter Shannon Travis notes:
"Many conservatives decry the focus on a candidate's race as an obsession for liberals."
Travis cites an example from a rival network that shows why conservatives are right on this point:
"Recently, in an interview with MSNBC, host Lawrence O'Donnell pressed Cain: Why didn't he participate in the civil rights movement?" This actually doesn't quite do the exchange justice: O'Donnell, a person of pallor, berates Cain for being insufficiently committed to civil rights half a century ago.
"There's a second reason that some conservatives, particularly tea partiers, largely ignore Cain's race," Travis notes: "it drives a stake through claims that the movement harbors racists." This seems to us a reversal of cause and effect. Conservatives and Tea Partiers ignore Cain's race not because they have something to prove but because they didn't care much about race to begin with.
Cain has, as Travis notes, "waded into the 'who's more black' controversy--him or Obama," telling radio host Neal Boortz: that Obama has "never been part of the black experience in America. I can talk about that. I can talk about what it really meant to be 'po' before I was poor." Conservative talkers Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh have puckishly picked up on the theme that, in Limbaugh's words, "Herman Cain could be our first authentically black president."
"These barbs from frequent Obama flame-throwers are surely meant as an intentional diss," Travis observes, going out on a limb. "By any reasonable measure, the president holds the title of being the first African-American to occupy the White House." True enough, although it's worth noting--as we did last year--that whether Obama was "black enough" was a subject of intense controversy within the black community in the early stages of his campaign.
There's one additional reason Cain's race isn't as a big a deal as Obama's was: The question of whether a black man could be elected president has now been settled. When John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president, it was a big deal. When John Kerry was a contender to become the second, hardly anyone noticed. We were much more interested in the possibility of electing the first haughty, French-looking president who by the way served in Vietnam. And if you even know that Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president, you are a trivia champion.
If Cain's race is a bigger deal than Kerry's or Biden's Catholicism, it is only because a black Republican is still unusual. That explains why liberal Democrats like O'Donnell are so agitated about Cain's political rise. By disproving the claim that Republicans are racist, it threatens to dissolve the glue that binds blacks to the Democratic Party.
The Washington Examiner reports that Ed Schultz, host of MSNBC's "The Mr. Ed Show," has claimed that Cain "is appealing to white racists in order to win the Republican primary":
"You think about white Republicans who don't like black folks," Schultz explained. "It's almost as if this guy is trying to warm up to them and tell them what they want to hear."These white Republicans are so racist that they're willing to elect a black man president just to keep black people down. The absurdity of that formulation underscores the left's desperation to keep the idea of racism alive.