(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Herman Cain finally ended his quixotic quest for the GOP nomination last Saturday to the surprise of many and the consternation of his fellow candidates. The ‘suspension’ of his campaign was a surprise since Cain had been so adamant about his innocence, so dogmatic about his campaign’s strength that it seemed like nothing would force him to quit. Then again, he said that the final decision would be made with his wife, and I’m sure that after weeks of allegations from women that he was a serial sexual harasser as well as him carrying on long term affairs, she was not having anymore of his mid-life crisis campaign. What’s interesting in all of this however is that Herman Cain has opened a door in campaign politics in a way that wouldn’t have been possible just 20 years ago. We have now finally reached a place where African-Americans are allowed to be self-funded vanity candidates, too.
This is not as silly a concept as you think, considering the state of presidential campaigns now and in the foreseeable future. There have been several prominent and not so prominent African-Americans who have sought the Democratic, Republican and even the Reform party nominations for president over the years. In the 1970’s there was Shirley Chisolm, Jesse Jackson in the 1980’s, in the 1990’s Alan Keyes ran for the GOP nod, Doug Wilder ran for the Democratic nomination in 1992 and Ezola Foster was the VP for the Reform Party ticket under Pat Buchannan. By the time the 2000’s rolled around no one blinked when Al Sharpton was running and while Obama’s victory was seen as ground breaking, his decision to run for president was not nearly as radical a concept as Jesse Jackson’s run was years ago.
However there has never been a campaign quite like Herman Cain’s but it is likely that we will see more in the future. Cain’s campaign was from the very beginning an exercise in vanity that few if any would have allowed an African-American to engage in until recently. He was running for the highest office in the land and his only real qualifications were that he was really wealthy and ran a pizza franchise that most people have only tangentially heard of. Yet, he was allowed to participate in all debates, he was given interviews like any other candidate and when he unexpectedly rose to front-runner status he underwent the same scrutiny that most front runners receive. Now, presidential history in the last two decades is full of fantasy candidates who run only because they’ve got a few million burning a hole in the pockets and nothing else to do with their summer but they’ve all been White and they’ve all been much better prepared than Cain. Ross Perot not only ran for president but started a functioning third party for years. Steve Forbes (the proto-type for Cain) ran a campaign in 1996 that was based on nothing other than a flat tax; he’d never served in public office and yet, as a rich guy he got invited to all of the cool political parties. No one questioned whether they had the right to run for office or the legitimacy of their ambition even if it was obvious that all they wanted to do was sell books or make a name for themselves.
Herman Cain, by being afforded the same grace and leeway as these previous two rich guys with time on their hands has actually opened a door for other African-American millionaires and billionaires to engage in the same self aggrandizement. Now that they’ve seen you can get away with it (if you don’t include having all of your personal business put out on front street) they’ll probably try eventually as well. Is it that hard to envision a world where Harry Alford, or Bob Johnson decide they want to run for president? Spend a few million, raise a few million, hide it through inept campaign finance laws and you’ve got yourself a brand new career without breaking a sweat. Of course Herman Cain won’t have a career after this campaign. He’s all but ruined his brand with his poor campaign management and inability to cover up the simplest of sexual scandals, but that doesn’t mean the next guy won’t be smarter. So get your running shoes on Stedman, Johnsons and Alfords of the world. 2016 is right around the corner and you’ll want to make sure you’ve cleaned up all your skeletons in time for the first debate.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)