Why does Herman Cain think about Muslims the way racists think about blacks?
Herman Cain says Republicans should nominate him for president in part because " my candidacy would take race off the table." Cain, a former CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association, is black. Therefore, he argues, he can't be accused of prejudice when he criticizes President Obama.
It's a plausible argument, as far as race goes. But prejudice is bigger than race. Prejudice gets peeled one layer at a time. You give black men the vote but don't see why ladies need it. You open the military to women but can't imagine homosexuals defending your country. You congratulate yourself on being an enlightened liberal even as you ridicule Mormons.
Or, if you're Cain, you rise from segregation and defy black political stereotypes while treating Muslims with the same crude bias that was once applied to you.
Three months ago, Scott Keyes of Think Progress asked Cain: " Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?" Cain answered: "No, I will not. And here's why. There is this creeping attempt … to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government."
A few days ago, during the GOP debate in New Hampshire, Cain denied having said this. "The statement was, would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration, not that I wouldn't appoint one," Cain told John King. "That's the exact transcript."
No, it isn't. The video clearly shows Cain saying, " I will not." If he had been talking about discomfort, he would have said, "I would not." And in case his meaning wasn't clear enough, here's video of him a few days later, saying: " I was asked by a reporter, would I appoint a Muslim to my cabinet? I said no." And again, in another video: " I made the statement that I would not put a Muslim in my cabinet, or in my administration." And again, on Fox News: " A reporter asked me, would I appoint a Muslim to my administration? I did say no."
Cain is familiar with this kind of group exclusion. It was done to him 60 years ago. He had to sit in the back of the bus and drink from "colored" water fountains. He graduated second in his high school class but was refused admission by the University of Georgia. It didn't matter how smart Cain was or how hard he worked. He was black, and the white society around him had decided that blacks were inferior. He was treated as a member of a group, not as an individual. In a word, he was prejudged.
Today, the Ku Klux Klan is still around, but its racism has become more sophisticated. It uses data. "The black male is the greatest perpetrator of both petty crimes and violent crimes in the black communities," says a Klan Web site. Even "Jesse Jackson said that when he's walking down the street at night and he hears footsteps behind him, he's relieved to turn around and see a white person instead of a black person." From this, the Klan concludes, "Minorities … as a people (though there are always exceptions to the rule) are incapable of maintaining or even comprehending the rule of law and order."
This is what Cain is now doing to Muslims. Last week, Glenn Beck asked him whether Muslims would have to show " loyalty proof" to serve in a Cain administration. Cain said yes. Beck pressed: "Would you do that to a Catholic, or would you do that to a Mormon?" Cain replied: "Nope, I wouldn't. Because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions."
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Herman Cain by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.