Why I Stand By My Criticism of Herman Cain -- Even As Right-Wingers Attack Me

Editor's Note: On Feb 14, writer Chauncey DeVega published a post on AlterNet assessing the CPAC performance of Herman Cain, a right-wing potential presidential candidate, in strong and provocative language. Since then, both he and AlterNet have come under attack by right-wing media. Below, DeVega (a pseudonym) responds.

At its core, politics is a projection of our collective fantasies and wishes. What are our hopes, dreams, wants, and desires for our community? How are they embodied by those individuals whom we choose to elect into office and whose causes we champion?

In thinking through some of those questions, I offered a simple suggestion in my essay “Black History Month is Herman Cain Playing the Race Minstrel for CPAC,” that many prominent black conservatives are as much performers for the pleasures of the white conservative imagination, as they are “principled” politicians and activists.

Ultimately, any reasonable discussion of the role of black conservatives in the right-wing movement—especially as highlighted by the type of racially reactionary politics embodied by CPAC, the Tea Parties, and the New Right—must seriously consider that proposition. Why? Consistently, from at least the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon, on to the policies of Reagan and his embrace of the image of the "welfare queen," to the notorious Willie Horton ad, and including the vitriolic race baiting of Palin-McCain with its “Real American” meme of 2008, the policies of the right-wing in this country can in the most polite and generous terms be described as hostile and anathema to the political interests of the working and middle classes, people of color, and the poor.

But let’s tread carefully: a difference of opinion on what constitutes good policy is not in and of itself a bad thing. Moreover, the diversity of political opinion in the black community is something to be signaled to. It should not be glossed over or run away from. However, as a black American with a deep and abiding love and concern for my community and country, I begin with a basic question for my conservative brothers and sisters regarding their political affiliations.

I ask simply, where is the love? Where is a sense of linked fate to a community whose centuries-long freedom struggle made your success possible? Whose long-term interests are you beholden to?

For example, Herman Cain has repeatedly spoken before Koch brothers funded, John Birch Society-linked groups, including those that are in favor of rolling back such basic Civil Rights-era gains as integrated schools. In addition, to raucous applause at the CPAC conference, Herman Cain and Allen West both legitimated a deep hostility to President Obama that is rooted in “birtherism,” and crazed paranoid narratives about tyranny and terror from America’s first black president. As I and others have suggested elsewhere, these are narratives which are at their root premised on a belief that a black man who happens to be president is prima facie and de facto illegitimate. And of course, there is a long laundry list of black conservatives who make a living among the pundit classes as human parrots for the right-wing, more popular for their novelty than in offering a sustained critique of policies that may in fact be deleterious to communities of color and the common good.

In my original essay, I referred to Herman Cain and other black conservatives as “race minstrels” and “mascots” for the white conservative imagination. I stand by this observation. Whenever Herman Cain and others have a moment where they can engage in “real talk” among their ideological compatriots or make a public, critical intervention against the obvious racial hostility which drives contemporary American conservatism, they either stand mute or enable it. When the opportunity to slap down the fallacy laden notion that black people with whom Republicans disagree are “brainwashed,” under the spell of false consciousness, or (in a disgusting abuse of the shared history and legacy of chattel slavery) are “on the plantation,” the Herman Cains of the world encourage this lie as one more way of signaling that that they are in fact the “authentic” voice of Black America.

This is why I playfully refer to black conservatives as “garbage pail kids." They found themselves political outliers in the black community because they could not answer the question, “Where is the love?” And thus the contemporary face of black conservatism found lucre and attention dancing for the shiny silver and gold showered upon them as they buck-danced and cakewalked across the metaphorical stage of white conservatism. This was a Faustian bargain. But it paid well, and black conservatives found themselves in the company of friends.


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