Who says politics is boring? Enter The Hermanator

By J Brooks Spector 29 September 2011

Herman Cain won big last week in America. No, not the Florida straw poll that is part of the Republican Party’s long march to selecting a nominee to face Barack Obama in 2012. A faux Herman Cain, played by Kenan Thompson, was in an equally pretend Fox TV candidates’ debate as part of the season opener of the venerable “Saturday Night Live”. So who is this guy? By J BROOKS SPECTOR.

In the skit, the Cain sound- and look-alike explained how his experience in overhauling and saving the Godfather’s pizza chain (that part is true) qualified him to be president. As Thompson’s Cain said “There is no better motto for the federal government than that of a pizza place. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and you’re high as a kite and the stuff in your fridge is weirding you out — if you order it, pizza will come. Pizza will come! Oh, pizza will most definitely come. And if you vote for me, America, I promise you that I will deliver.” And the really crazy thing is that the next morning the real Herman Cain on a real Fox News broadcast responded to the skit saying, “I think it’s great! I’m going to use that in my next debate: If you vote for me, America, I will deliver.” Steel yourself for pizza-shaped giveaways and free mini-pizzas on the campaign trail.

Talk about life imitating art, or at least, TV satire. “Saturday Night Live”, of course, has been skewering presidents, would-be presidents and other public figures for decades. In the last presidential election, for example, Tina Fey’s right-between-the-eyes rip of Sarah Palin (“And I can see Russia from my house!”) made it impossible to think of the vice presidential wannabe without recalling Fey’s impersonation. Some people even said Fey’s Palin was better than the candidate herself. With luck, an impersonation is funny without being deadly and then it goes viral. Columnists write about it, TV news programmes show clips of it and it goes on Facebook and YouTube where it lives forever.

But Cain’s entry into “Saturday Night Live’s” Valhalla might make one wonder how much of a long shot Herman Cain is. His personal story really is inspirational and the man obviously has real talent as a manager and leader along with implacable drive and spirit. His own campaign bio modestly has it: “Herman Cain grew up in Atlanta, Georgia with loving parents and little else. His father worked three jobs—as a janitor, a barber and a chauffeur—and his mother was a domestic worker. Even though these jobs required hard work and little glamour, his parents knew this life was better than the dirt farms upon which they grew up. They also knew that this hard work was the key to achieving their American Dreams….

“Herman continued his education by earning his Master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University while working full-time developing fire control systems for ships and fighter planes for the Department of the Navy. Though Herman enjoyed using his talents as a civilian employee for the Navy, he gravitated towards the culture of business.” And so forth (http://www.hermancain.com/…

In the full glow of corporate success, he became a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and developed yet another career as a popular radio talk-show host. And then he came down with – and beat – stage-four colon cancer. Although Herman Cain has never before run for elective office, the man has courage and stamina in abundance.

Americans don’t usually like to put a politically untested business person in the White House. The last time a major party (forget about the self-financed Ross Perot) tried a non-veteran politician was in 1940 when Republican and businessman Wendell Wilkie was sent packing by the enormously popular Franklin Roosevelt. Still, George Washington, Ike Eisenhower and Ulysses S Grant had never been elected before and they became presidents on the basis of their war records. Herbert Hoover had only been an appointed secretary of commerce and Abraham Lincoln had only had one term as a congressman and a couple of stints as a state legislator to his credit before becoming president. Barack Obama’s own political CV was not altogether overflowing with experience.

As a declared candidate for the Republican nomination, Cain has come on stronger and stronger, this time winning the Florida straw poll by a rousing 37%, pummelling rivals Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Now, granted straw polls don’t count in the final reckoning and fewer than 3,000 people took part. Still, polling data shows the people who participate do tend to echo the larger universe of the increasingly conservative Republican partisans who vote in the primaries that do select the delegates to the party’s convention that does pick the eventual candidate. Of course, neither the straw polls nor the primaries necessarily reflect national voter preferences. That’s a whole different story.

Following private meetings with Donald Trump and former New York mayor and political maverick, Ed Koch earlier this week, Cain’s new book comes out on Wednesday. A bit later down the road, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum Dennis Miller has agreed to host a fundraiser for Cain. At this rate, gaining a coveted spot as a guest host on SNL can only be a few months away.

Besides making waves on the tube, Cain has scored some success in the minds of would-be voters with his easy-to-understand tax proposal, the so-called 9-9-9 plan. At the recent Republican candidates’ debate in Florida, as soon as the moderator had asked the question, the studio audience broke into applause. Cain’s proposal is a radical overhaul of the US tax system – in its delivery not unlike a “buy one, get one free” pizza marketing campaign, sniffed National Public Radio.

In essence, Cain’s plan would

  • Cut the corporate tax rate to 9% from its current level of up to 35%.
  • Replace the six brackets of the personal income tax that now range from 10% to 35% with an across the board 9%.
  • Institute a 9% national sales tax to fund the federal government (in addition to state and local sales taxes).
  • Eliminate federal estate taxes, payroll taxes and taxes on capital gains.

It would, however, continue deductions for businesses on investments and purchases from other businesses, deductions on charitable donations and deductions for businesses that employ residents living in designated lower-income “empowerment zones,” as well as income tax deductions for residents living in those zones.

Taken together, this is a very business-friendly plan that can also be rather enticing to the average citizen, although there still needs to be some very heavy lifting to calculate how such a plan’s tax changes would affect the ability of the federal government to pay for everything everybody wants from it. That’ll come. Accountants are standing by at Perry, Romney – and Obama – headquarters.

Oh, and did we mention Herman Cain is an African American? DM

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