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Cain plays the race card, unfortunately

Herman Cain thinks his race is a factor in the publicizing of sex harassment complaints, though he has no evidence of a racially motivated conspiracy against him.

November 03, 2011
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

There will be plenty of time to comment on sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain — a third emerged Tuesday — when all the facts are known. Meanwhile, we're disappointed that the businessman-turned-presidential candidate is playing the race card. It's an unexpected tack for a man who said just last month: "I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way."

Apparently Cain does think his race is a factor in the revelations about the sexual harassment complaints. Prompted by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer in a television interview, Cain answered yes to the question of whether "race [and] being a strong black conservative has anything to do with the fact you've been so charged."

The sort of racism Cain hinted at is not the blatant bigotry of a bygone era. Still, according to Cain, by targeting black conservatives, liberals are treating them differently than white conservatives, on the basis of their race. Krauthammer implied that another victim of such bias was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who, he noted, was "near to achieving a position of high authority [when] he was hit with a sexual harassment charge."

The example of Thomas has a more relevant similarity to Cain's reaction to media reports about the harassment complaints. Thomas famously exploited race by describing his televised confirmation hearings as a "high-tech lynching." Cain has said in the past that he expects similar treatment, and a PAC supporting him said in a fundraising letter that the left-wing media, "just like they did to Clarence Thomas, [are] engaging in a 'high-tech lynching' by smearing Herman Cain's reputation and character."

The use of the term "lynching" in both cases is tasteless and wildly inappropriate. But the underlying argument — that a black candidate is being treated more harshly than a white candidate would be because of his race — is still a serious charge, not to be leveled lightly. By his own admission, Cain has no evidence of a racially motivated conspiracy against him. Nevertheless, "based upon our speculation," he told Krauthammer, "race is a bigger driving factor" among his critics on the left.

Some might defend Cain on the grounds that he's a novice politician with a habit of misspeaking. But when it comes to accusations of racism, more is expected of a presidential candidate, even an unconventional one. Cain should put the race card back in the deck.

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