Book Review: This Is Herman Cain

The secret of Herman Cain is that he seems -- at least to me -- genuinely to be a mentally healthy human being.

This is no small thing, particularly in the world of politics -- even more so presidential politics, where large dollops of nearly clinical narcissism are necessary to propel the ambition needed to run for this most powerful of offices.

As most of us know by now, Cain leavens his narcissism with generous jolts of humor -- much of it self-deprecating -- that make him, at this moment anyway, the most engaging figure on the political scene.

But beneath the humor is the more serious tale of a self-made man who has pulled himself up by the proverbial bootstraps -- a “po’” boy (not a poor boy), as he describes himself in his soon-to-be released (Oct. 4) autobiography/campaign manifesto, This Is Herman Cain: My Journey to the White House.

Cain also describes himself in the book as a “CEO of Self,” at once making fun of his well-known CEO status with Godfather's Pizza while emphasizing his own determined self-actualization. Cain is a guy who from the beginning of his life aimed to improve himself and succeeded.

A “CEO of Self” is a man who knows what his real goals are and does not let life’s inevitable vicissitudes, large and small, fair and unfair, public and private, racial and otherwise, deter him. He makes that very clear as he explains his way of dealing with discrimination during his youth: “I chose as CEO of Self to remove the barriers rather than to allow the barriers to remove me.”

He just kept on trucking. When unable to get a haircut because the barber would not cut the hair of black people, he bought himself a pair of clippers and cut his own hair. He does so to this day. (Take that, John Edwards!)

This is the same man who put himself through Morehouse College majoring in math, got a masters in computer science from Purdue (while improving academically), plotted rocket guidance for the Navy, started in business at Coca-Cola, then went on to turn around the fortunes of Philadelphia’s Burger King franchise, take over the aforementioned Godfather's Pizza chain, become the head of the National Restaurant Association, be appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and host a radio show into the bargain. And, of course, he defeated the Big C.

The only thing this man seems to have failed at is politics. He lost an earlier run for the Senate from his home state of Georgia.

This doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from the presidency, nor does it truly disqualify him that he has had absolutely no elected experience. That may even be an advantage, as Cain has puckishly pointed out on several occasions.

But we certainly do have a right to wonder what he would really be like as president. Cain seems to realize this because he provides us with a preview in his new book. The title of chapter 12 is “The Cain Administration: The First Ninety Days.” The following passage caught my eye:

As in every executive position I’ve ever undertaken, I will determine the parameters of my activities. And while I respect those who have served before me, I will not follow in their footsteps. I will create new footsteps.

I will reduce the number of protocol-oriented events that presidents are seemingly required to attend. At a time of deepening national crisis, I simply cannot afford to allocate valuable time to things that do not advance solutions to this nation’s problems. That’s why I have decided to sharply decrease the number of inaugural night balls. Instead, Mrs. Cain and I will host a series of celebratory occasions, and they will be spread out during my first months in office.

My guest lists for state dinners and other important occasions will be light on A list celebrities and heavy on normal Americans who work each day to restore our nation to greatness. And unlike the practice of certain previous administrations, there will be no "paying" guests staying in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Once each month I plan to invite small groups of average citizens to join me for dinner and conversation. As someone who will have to spend most of my working hours in Washington, these events will make it possible for me to take the nation’s pulse on the pressing issues, as well as to stay connected to the people.

Sounds as if there won’t be a lot of golf.

This Is Herman Cain also includes an appendix spelling out the candidate’s stands on the issues. Its final section -- My Candidacy, Against the Odds -- contains the following in bold face:

1. I don’t claim to know everything:

2. I don’t pander to groups;

3. I am terrible at political correctness.

Not bad for starters.

Also read: "Cain Rises, and Then He Gaffes"