A piece on Herman Cain’s financial disclosures over at National Journal (“The Godfather’s Wallet”) reminds me of an old-fashioned term of approbation we once used in an America that seems long ago: a self-made man.
If anybody personifies this old term, it is Herman Cain. A 1967 graduate of Morehouse College, the all-black school in Atlanta, Cain has a good deal of money, and he made it all by himself, by working for large corporations, accumulating stock, sitting on boards, and, more recently, being a radio talk host.
What bothers me is that this quintessential American success story now appears eccentric to so many Americans. Indeed, our current president praises people who shun the corporate world where Cain made his mark in favor of non-profits.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer sums up the disdain with which many Americans—including far too many Republicans—regard the self-made man:
Start with the fact that Cain is not, well, one of us, “us” being the Republican establishment. His two millionaire opponents, both having reached that elevated station in whole or in part because they were born into it, make it clear that no man who has worked his way up, and made a bit of money in the pizza business, can be un homme sérieux. Developed the plan on the back of a pizza box, they chortle.
Never mind that this might be as good a way as using the computer models that told President Obama’s team that his massive stimulus plan would lower the unemployment rate. Or that the criticism smacks of the aversion of the British hereditary classes to “trade.” It is an unbecoming line of criticism for a party that is supposed to represent the upwardly mobile entrepreneurial class.
I haven’t made up my mind about Cain (and wouldn’t tell you if I had). I am disturbed that, just a little over a year from the election, Cain is trying to get “up to speed” on foreign affairs.
However, I do think that his experiences are just as good as those of somebody I won’t name who’d never met a payroll before unpacking at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Stelzer defends Cain against the charge that he has based his 9-9-9 plan not entirely on the musings of economists but on having had a real job:
More important is that 9-9-9, whatever its other virtues or vices, accomplishes a long-held conservative goal: It transfers a portion of the tax burden from work, risk-taking, innovation, and job creation to consumption. How can a conservative object to such a change? Yes, it is regressive, transferring some of the tax burden from upper- to lower-income families. But opposing the Democrats’ proposed tax on millionaires is also regressive. If you are really opposed to any tax that has regressive features, you might as well sign on with Chuck Schumer, unless of course you want to be constructive and make suggestions for reducing the regressivity in a plan that its creator says is “a work in progress.”
And instead of sneering at that honest admission, ask if you can remember a single feature of Mitt Romney’s fully formed, no-further-progress-needed, 59-point plan for job creation. Woodrow Wilson made do with only 14 points, Franklin Roosevelt with only Four Freedoms. Besides, 9-9-9 provides a more compelling rallying call than “See my 59 points.”