Niggerhead Revisited, Starring Herman Cain

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 4 2011 8:51 AM

Niggerhead Revisited, Starring Herman Cain

On Sunday, Herman Cain gave the "Niggerhead" story much-needed kindling, telling Fox News that the presence of the name at Rick Perry's old hunting camp was horribly offensive. "For him to leave it there as long as he did before, I hear, they finally painted over it, is just insensitive to a lot of people in this country."

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On Monday, exiting his summit with Donald Trump, Cain completely reversed his position. "I really don't care about that story! They painted over it. End of story."

Adam Serwer correctly identifies the factor that changed everything. Conservative voters (and some elites) read the "Niggerhead" story and immediately blamed the media for puffing up a complete non-scandal. They were unified on that explanation... until Cain, a black man who grew up in the segregated South, admitted that he was offended by the story. "Cain just ran head first into the brick wall of conservative anti-anti-racism," writes Serwer, "the attitude on the right that accusations of racism directed at white people are of far greater consequence than any lingering vestiges of institutional racism nonwhites might face." Instead of piling on Perry, using moral authority that the governor of Texas could have no response to, Cain sheathed his sword. It was not a winning issue for him. Sure, it's a "distraction" -- because continuing to focus on it would turn white voters against Cain.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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