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Cain’s Campaign Autobiography Goes Down Less-Traveled Roads

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
As campaign biographies go, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain’s is more interesting than most because it breaks the mold, John Bicknell writes.

A baseball metaphor seems to be appropriate at this time of year, so let’s just say that it’s the last couple of weeks of spring training and a bunch of presidential candidates are about to be sent over to the minor-league complex.

But that promising new prospect, Herman Cain, is getting hot at just the right moment and thinks he has a chance to head north with the big club.

Well, we’ll see. Cain has had some successes and failures in the GOP debates so far. One other thing he has: one of the most offbeat campaign autobiographies you’re ever likely to come across.

“This Is Herman Cain!” (yes, with an exclamation point, like a Broadway musical) is optimistically subtitled: “My Journey to the White House.” No one can accuse Cain of undue pessimism.

The book contains a wealth of material that Cain could make good use of on the campaign trail, much the same way he did with his personal cancer recovery saga at a recent debate.

Particularly affecting is his story about deciding to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta after being denied admission to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, which were officially desegregated but, as Cain notes, “chose to keep enrollment of black students to a minimum.” Cain’s daughter, Melanie, decided to attend UGA, graduating in 1994. “I suspect her decision had something to do with an option I had not enjoyed,” he writes. That’s the kind of story that connects a candidate to voters.

Along the way, he devotes chapters to his battle with cancer, his wife, his leadership of Godfather’s Pizza and his obsession with the number 45, all written in the same conversational/enthusiastic/evangelical tone that permeates Cain’s podium performances.

Without an electoral base on which to build, this is good strategy. Readers will come away from “This Is Herman Cain!” feeling like the candidate has let them into his office, shown them around and asked them to have a chat over coffee.

But that is also the book’s shortcoming. Without a history of casting votes on important issues of the day, Cain has an added responsibility to be expansive on policy issues.

Instead, he makes the unusual choice of saving his prescriptions for an appendix at the end of the book, covering 19 topics in 21 pages.

Of course, a large part of Cain’s appeal is that he has not been in politics and brings an outsider’s viewpoint. Still, three paragraphs on national security is a little thin. The section on tax cuts is, to be charitable, vague.

Apparently the book was written before Cain fully developed his “9-9-9” plan for a 9 percent income tax rate, 9 percent business tax rate and a 9 percent national sales tax (a proposal that gave rise to the best headline on any political story so far this year — by Kevin Williamson in National Review: “Nein! Nein! Nein!”)

Which might be just as well. If Cain sustains his momentum and becomes a serious contender for the nomination, he is going to have a hell of time explaining and defending the plan even to some conservatives (as Williamson detailed, referring to “Mr. Cain’s most distressing hallmark: wishful thinking that borders on fantasy”).

As campaign biographies go, Cain’s is more interesting than most, precisely because it breaks the mold — and because he has led a full life outside the world of politics, where most interesting things happen. After the policy appendix, he includes a series of appendices that are, in effect, a résumé, citing his “leadership history” (including the presidency of the Morehouse College Glee Club) and “My Awards and Honors” (there are six pages of those).

He is an accomplished man. He has written an entertaining book. Now comes the hard part — hitting big-league pitching in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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