NPR logo Herman Cain's Curious Strategy For Attracting Black Voters

Herman Cain

Herman Cain's Curious Strategy For Attracting Black Voters

Herman Cain in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 24, 2011. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Herman Cain in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 24, 2011.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Herman Cain practically delights in not being a professional politician and he's unlikely to be confused for one, at least not this week.

Because the last thing a professional politician ever does is insult voters he claims to be interested in attracting, for instance, by saying that those same voters were "brainwashed."

But that's what Cain did Wednesday On CNN when he told Wolf Blitzer during a Situation Room interview:

"African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative. So it's just brainwashing and people not being open minded, pure and simple.

... For two thirds of them that is the case. Now the good news is I happen to believe that a third to 50 percent of the African Americans in this country, they are open-minded. I meet them everyday. They stop me in the airport. So this whole notion that all African Americans are necessarily going to stay and vote Democrat, vote for Obama, that's simply not true. More and more black Americans are thinking for themselves and that's a good thing.

... I do think a third of them would vote for me based on my own anecdotal feedback. Now they won't be voting for me because I'm black. They'll be voting for me because of my policies and what I'm offering to fix this economy, starting with, as you know, my 9-9-9 plan. That's what they're responding too.

First, it'd be great to get some scientific polling data to see if Cain's anecdotal sense of the support he has among African Americans in airports squares with reality.

With all due respect, it seems highly unlikely that a third of African-Americans would vote for him with President Obama also on the ballot.

Second, African-Americans are actually just like other voters. They vote their interests but also from their view of what's best for their country. Like other voters, they tend to think what's best for them is also best for their country.

History bears this out. That explains how blacks went from largely voting for the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln during Reconstruction to voting for Democrats ever since the Franklin D. Roosevelt era. Whichever party most embraced the goal of equal opportunity and spoke to the African American desire for justice, that's where black voters migrated.

One of the best examples of this was Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and his son, the better-known member of the family. King Sr. was a Republican. He was also a Baptist preacher suspicious of Catholics.

But in 1960, after his son, the famed civil-rights leader, was thrown in jail for a traffic infraction, and then-presidential candidate John Kennedy and brother Robert intervened to get King Jr. released, the elder King threw his support to Kennedy.

Cain makes it sound like African Americans are too weak-minded or stupid to recognize what's in their own self interest. Again, not the best way to win over voters.

Third, Cain isn't the first African American who's been in the public eye to opine that African Americans are brainwashed. Another conservative, though one of the religious variety — Malcolm X — got there long before Cain. (Go to about the 1:22 mark of this video.)