Tea partyers are delighted that their support for Herman Cain proves they don't hate black people. Unfortunately, judging by some of his statements, Cain doesn't seem to like black people very much, either.
It says a lot about America's racial progress that the former Godfather's Pizza CEO has surged to first place with a 4-point edge over Mitt Romney in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll -- a poll that also gave Cain a 69 percent "favorable" score among tea party backers.
Yet, one also wonders how much of the Hermanator's rise has benefited from his trash talk about black people and other minorities.
Exhibit A: He said on CNN that black voters have been "brainwashed" into not "thinking for themselves" or "even considering a conservative point of view." Funny, but I didn't hear similar complaints when black voters -- like me -- said they would be delighted to consider Colin Powell, if he were to run. But, oh, yeah, Powell is a moderate Republican, a nearly extinct breed in today's tea party-fueled GOP.
Exhibit B: Cain has described the Democratic Party as a "plantation" for black voters. In fact, plantation politics were cited in the 1960s when blacks walked away en masse from the party of Abe Lincoln. Conservative Republicans nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Still, it is worth noting, Cain's social conservatism resonates with many black Americans, polls confirm. But his small-government, anti-entitlement positions don't. "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!" he said in a Wall Street Journal interview on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Cain may be a maestro of marketing, but, outside the tea party, "blame yourself" is going to be a hard sell as a campaign slogan -- and not just among blacks.
Exhibit C: Cain recently revealed a telling slice of conservative political correctness in the dust-up following the Washington Post's discovery of a rock emblazoned with a racial slur at a ranch Rick Perry frequented. Cain called Perry's slow response "insensitive," a pretty mild criticism. Yet, Cain was immediately spanked by conservative bloggers for playing the "race card."
Yet we did not hear conservatives complain about a race card when Cain previously suggested President Obama was not a "real black man" or "a strong black man." Or when he labeled Planned Parenthood clinics in black communities as "Planned Genocide."
The implicit message from conservatives to Cain: It is OK for you to talk about race, as long as you only criticize black people.
At least Cain knows his audience. A widely cited 2010 survey by the University of Washington found 73 percent of "strong" tea party supporters said blacks would be as well off as whites if they just tried harder. Only 33 percent of the movement's strong opponents agreed.
Support for the tea party doesn't mean you're a racist, the survey's author, Christopher Parker, said, but it does make you 25 percent more likely to be racially resentful than those who don't support the movement.
Yet, Cain should not imply that black people don't care about self-sufficiency. Polls since Obama's 2008 election indicate that, even with our short-term economic woes, black Americans are more optimistic than ever about our long-term prospects. The black American dream lives.
Even Cain's self-help message might have a chance to gain some traction among those optimistic black voters, if he were not so insulting about black people.