Posted Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, at 2:39 PM
I had the pleasure of talking to Herman Cain before he announced his presidential exploratory committee this week, and you can expect a fuller piece on who he is in a few days. (Some truly horrible breaking news intervened between the interview and the writing.) So far, as he continues his media tour, I don't hear much about the reason he got into politics -- his opposition to health care reform in 1994, and a televised townhall battle with President Clinton that became conservative lore. Bob Cohn and Eleanor Clift
reported on this
at the time; curiously a video of the battle went inactive on Cain's old site, and is now gone.
The Clintons would later blame "Harry and Louise," the fictional couple in the ads aired by the insurance industry, for undermining health reform. But the real saboteurs are named Herman and John. Herman Cain is the president of Godfather's Pizza and president-elect of the National Restaurant Association. An articulate black entrepreneur, Cain transformed the debate when he challenged Clinton at a town meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last April. Cain asked the president what he was supposed to say to the workers he would have to lay off because of the cost of the "employer mandate." Clinton responded that there would be plenty of subsidies for small businessmen, but Cain persisted. "Quite honestly, your calculation is inaccurate," he told the president. "In the competitive marketplace it simply doesn't work that way."
The switchboard at Godfather's was lit up with supportive calls. It was as if the small business community -- a very large and politically powerful group -- had been told to march on Washington. Cain, said Larry Neal, an aide to Sen. Phil Gramm, "was the lightning rod."
Cain became a GOP star and joined a flat tax study group after the 1994 elections. Unfortunately, the first people I've contacted about the group -- which didn't quite get a flat tax passed -- don't remember much about it, or about Cain. His political star sort of hung there until his 2004 U.S. Senate run in Georgia.
Thanks to Steve Parkhurst for the Newsweek reminder.