The wonder of America is that you can grow up in a time when there are separate water fountains in public parks for blacks and whites and years later anticipate the possibility of two black men vying against each other for president in the general election — Barack Obama and Herman Cain.
Another wonder would be if Cain won, restoring some vital parts that have been misplaced in this land of ours even as other parts have vastly improved.
Do a surface check, and Cain may seem incapable of either. How easy is it for someone with no electoral victories going to win this hardest race of them all, and if he made it to the Oval Office, how would this outsider fare in a city where they mostly chew up novices and spit them out? We see how it worked when inexperienced Obama started work as president. Catastrophe.
Obama, after all, had done some lecturing, a little law on the side, some community organizing, and, oh yes, he was an Illinois state senator and was elected to the U.S. Senate, though he mostly utilized his time there saying things that contradict what he says now and running for the office that put a gleam in his eye.
Here is the kind of thing he had not done. He had not climbed to extraordinary success in the private sector, which sometimes almost seems a matter of scorn to him. He had not gone from success in Coca Cola to heading Burger King to being CEO of Godfather's Pizza. Cain did, and was a major success, and if you do not think political skill matters in those kinds of jobs, on top of administrative brilliance, you do not know private enterprise. You want more? He was a civilian mathematician with the Navy, is a Baptist minister, a columnist, a radio host and was chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
He had also done some D.C. lobbying as head of an association, and what you learn by that branch of skilled labor is what the zoo looks like up close.
Cain may not have the wit and quick moves of an Obama, but watch him in person and you will find yourself noticing his humanity, his decency, a thoroughgoing honesty, and you start understanding how he stood tall in dog-eat-dog land. He has special qualities that might make him a good fit as president.
But wait a second. Isn't that 9-9-9 business the kind of thing the journalist H.L. Mencken had in mind when he said every serious problem has a simple answer that is wrong?
Not really, because 9-9-9 is just a summing up of an idea to replace a social-engineering, stop-the-economy tax system that took years of strenuous, dishonest, ignorant conniving to devise. If shaped with skill, it would not raise taxes on the poor. It would definitely leave the middle class better off. And it could make our economy more competitive and robust.
None of this is to say that Cain can win the Republican nomination or that there may not be better choices, but to laugh at his even running is itself the joke, and for commentators of a liberal persuasion to say racism still lingers in the hearty welcome given him by conservatives is a worse joke. These commentators seem to think that looking beyond skin color to the content of character and philosophy does not count if the philosophy is not one they embrace. It is a non-sequitur, and it is not bright.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.