Sometimes, competition can make people abandon their natural common sense. That arguably happened yesterday to Herman Cain, who must have seen the Washington Post exposé on Rick Perry about a Texas hunting ranch lease from the 1980s as an opening to hit one of the frontrunners in the race. Cain appeared on ABC’s This Week and blasted Perry as “insensitive” (mildly NSFW):
This certainly seemed like a gift in the middle of a tough campaign, but as Jazz wrote yesterday, the Post’s story had a lot of holes in it — starting with the problem that they didn’t even find the rock in question, and that Perry’s family didn’t own or name the ranch, but in fact found the name offensive enough to cover with paint and flip over. Instead of waiting for more information, though, Cain accepted the premise of the Post’s article, which raised the ire of some conservatives, if my Twitter feed yesterday was any indication.
The Boss Emeritus provides some needed context to the Post’s attack:
They’ve given “stoning” a whole new meaning.
Has Perry actually used the racial epithet himself — you know, like the late, former KKK leader Robert Byrd did as recently as 2001?
Did Perry condescendingly refer to a black politician as “articulate and bright and clean” like Biden did when he described Barack Obama in 2007?
Did Perry racially stereotype Hispanics for political gain or refer offensively to President Obama’s “light skin” and “lack of a Negro dialect” like Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid did just last year?
And it is instructive, is it not, that no other candidate jumped on this revelation? Think about the conversations that must have gone on in Mitt Romney’s camp, or in Rick Santorum’s. I bet they weren’t even very long conversations. It’s a charge that emanates from the liberal media, and the last thing in the world, and I mean the very last thing, a candidate chasing Republican primary votes wants to do is sound like that. It’s a dead certainty that we won’t hear another peep about this story from them.
As for Cain, one wonders what synapse snapped into action there. He has been reliably on message on such matters, saying things like (as he said even yesterday) two thirds of black Americans are victims of “brainwashing” against conservatism. I guess he just doesn’t know his steam-locomotive history. But he said what he said, and now he’s going to have to prove to these people, just as he was gaining a little momentum, that he isn’t morphing into Al Sharpton.
As for Perry himself, he seems unlikely to be hurt very much. One supposes it is possible that some group of GOP panjandrums will send up a smoke signal, gather in lower Manhattan, and decide that this is another sign that Perry isn’t the man to put forward next November. If he’d been coming off three dominant debate performances and was still running away with it, he could wrap himself in the highest possible dudgeon and try to chop the Post to pieces for the amusement of a salivating base constituency. But since he’s on the downswing for now, he needs to play defense, which is what his camp did yesterday. This charge may make some conservatives feel that Perry is a tad embarrassing. But how many will it personally offend? Let’s face it, based on the evidence of the last debate, the GOP base thinks Perry isn’t racially insensitive enough, giving $100,000 college-education discounts to all those illegal brown children.
I don’t find it at all surprising that Cain, who grew up in poverty and oppressive state-backed racism, would have an immediate and emotional reaction to this story. It seems almost churlish to scold him for calling it “insensitive,” a rather mild criticism considering the nature of the term. The other candidates in the GOP race for the nomination don’t have a history with this term as Cain does and could approach it more coolly, perhaps, while looking at the greater strategy of avoiding the potential backfire when the story came apart.
That said, the media has quite a track record of highlighting tenuous connections to racism when it comes to Republicans while, pardon the pun, whitewashing it when it comes to Democrats. Conservatives who were angry with Perry over his harsh reaction to criticism of his state-based tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants might tend to rally around him after watching a national media outlet accuse him falsely of perpetuating an ugly term that Perry himself said “has no place in the modern world.” They’re not likely to look kindly on those who bolster the case of the media, regardless of the context of life experience from which the reaction originates. That’s why it’s always best when these media “exposés” arise to withhold judgment until all of the facts are on the table.