In poll after poll, Herman Cain's freewheeling humor is cited as a contributing factor to his astronomical rise in the GOP primary. Trouble is, the Washington press isn't laughing. The former pizza magnate, who's been polling around 30 percent among likely GOP primary voters, is getting hammered for his lack of "seriousness" from everyone from Politico to The New York Times to The Washington Post to Time magazine. Is the Fourth Estate too stuffy or are voters just not privy enough to his record of uninhibited, unabashed folksiness?
In today's New York Times, the paper emphasizes that academics are tut-tutting at his racial humor, which includes referring to himself as "Häagen-Dazs black walnut” a flavor that "tastes good all the time," opening a debate with the phrase "Aww, shucky ducky!" and openly wishing his Secret Service codename will be "Cornbread." Ullik Ryder, a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University says Cain's humor "makes the hair on my neck stand up ... Referencing negative stereotypes in order to get heard to a white audience in the 21st century is really a problem.” In another blog post on the site, the Times posts a kind of greatest hits of his "freewheeling quotes," which include the line “Stupid people are ruining America” and his point of pride that he doesn't know the president of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan."
On Tuesday, Politico was more blunt in its probing: "Is Herman Cain Serious?" read the headline. The story refers to him as a "political novelty act" and "an entertaining sideshow." "Now that Cain, buoyed by bulging poll numbers, is demanding to be viewed as a credible contender for the GOP nomination, Cain’s greatest peril is that primary rivals, journalists and the political world broadly will grant that wish," wrote Reid Epstein.
The same day, Politico's executive editor Jim VandeHei was even harder on him, inflating the Cain "seriousness" question to the most important question in politics. In a "Driving the Day" video, VandeHei said "Driving the day, driving tonight, I think driving the entire narrative of the moment in this presidential contest is one question: Is Herman Cain serous? ... Talking about electrocuting people who are trying to come in from Mexico, illegal immigrants, talking about not knowing what neoconservatism is and that's a debate that has defined the Republican Party over the past decade and also this sort of odd development of not knowing who his advisers are."
We suppose it's good that candidates for the highest office in the land are given unyielding scrutiny. And of course, many of Cain's quotes such as not being familiar with neoconservatism or how his own tax plan would work if implemented are troubling. Still, polls seem to suggest that Americans don't mind Cain's folksy humor. So maybe the press should give him a break when it's obvious he's cracking wise?