STERN: The unnoticed Cain

As you walk into Yorkside Pizza, look to your right. On the wall, a little above eye level, you will see a framed magazine cover — the August 1998 edition of “Pizza Today,” which praises Yorkside. It’s been hanging there for over 10 years. On the cover of the magazine is a glossy picture of the then-CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain, whom Pizza Today refers to as “The Hermanator.”

To say that The Hermanator has been in the news recently is a bit of an understatement. Cain has recently tied or bested Mitt Romney in many well-publicized GOP primary polls. Cain’s slogans and YouTube videos have gone viral. In the past few days, he’s come under scrutiny for well-publicized allegations of sexual harassment.

It’s easy to say that Cain came out of nowhere — that exact phrase has actually been used to describe his candidacy in numerous sources, such as the Baltimore Sun, the Huffington Post and the Washington Times. His meteoric and surprising rise to the top of the polls and the tips of our tongues has been likened to that of this year’s St. Louis Cardinals. A considerable amount of ink has been spent discussing how some pizza chain owner with no previous political experience is now ahead of a pack of career GOP politicians.

But how out of nowhere has Cain’s candidacy really been? Has The Hermanator truly emerged from “nowhere” to surprise the entire country, or has he always been a somewhat important political presence we just never noticed? To answer that question, I look to the wall at Yorkside Pizza.

The magazine cover is bold and clearly professionally framed. It greets you just as you just as you enter Yorkside. Yet not a single patron I talked to had ever noticed the picture of Cain. When I pointed out the picture of Cain to McLane Ritzen ’14, she remarked, “We need to be more aware of our surroundings.”

“That’s kind of weird,” said McKay Nield ’13. “It’s funny that no one ever notices it.” After all, the picture is right there.

Even the owner of Yorkside, Anthony Koutroumanis, didn’t remember framing the magazine cover. “There are so many pictures on the wall,” said Koutroumanis, “I don’t even know when the picture [of Cain] was put up.” Koutroumanis also couldn’t remember when he realized the man in the picture that had been on his wall for more than a decade was now a major political figure.

This struck me as a little odd. Herman Cain is now one of the most talked-about people in America. Why don’t we notice his face smiling down at us from the wall of a favorite hangout?

Perhaps it’s because the picture is a little out of the way — it is slightly above eye level and to the right. Perhaps it’s because we have other things on our minds — pizza, to name just one.

And perhaps this situation is emblematic of Cain’s entire “out-of-nowhere” campaign, which isn’t really that out of nowhere after all. He is a little apart from the mainstream, and we have other things on our minds. But Cain’s been around for a while.

In the midst of Bill Clinton’s push for health care reform, Cain prominently claimed that his plan would hurt restaurant owners; after Clinton’s push failed, Newsweek called Cain one of the two key “saboteurs” of Clinton’s health plan. Cain sought the GOP nomination for president as early as 2000, and he ran in 2004 for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, coming in second place in the Republican primary. He was a prominent lobbyist when he headed the National Restaurant Association. Cain is a popular columnist, author and speaker, and he has gained considerable support from the Tea Party.

Long story short: Cain has been a major player for decades — longer than Michele Bachmann or even Barack Obama. He has been a candidate numerous times, and he has played an important role in influencing policy since many of us were toddlers. Yet we have chosen not to see him until very, very recently.

Cain’s picture has always been on the wall of Yorkside, but we don’t notice it, even now that he is a national figure. Cain was always a more important political figure than he has been made out to be, but we never noticed that either. Herman Cain has proven that just because we don’t notice someone, that doesn’t mean he’s not there. And one of these days, the unnoticed yet not unimportant — like Herman Cain — are going to start demanding their share of the spotlight.

To those of us who think Herman Cain would make a terrible president: We’ve brought his candidacy on ourselves. We can’t ignore him anymore.

Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu.

Comments

  • MB2014

    Really, really disagree with this entire piece. Herman Cain simply hasn’t been a major player for decades, and to suggest otherwise dramatically overstates his political credentials and degrades the presidency into a position that any random political loser can have a strong shot at.

    Herman Cain lost his only other political campaign 53-26 in a Republican primary against Johnny Isakson – who isn’t exactly the most inspiring of Republican senators himself. While other candidates were out governing, Cain spent his time doing talk radio. Cain has gained popularity, sure, but would people believe that Jim Hightower or Michael Moore have been “major players” that make a presidential campaign something we should expect? Of course not.

    Herman Cain is only a credible candidate in the Republican primary right now because their field of candidates is so uniquely terrible that a pro-life boulder could be rolled up on stage and receive 8% in the next national polls. It’s become clear in the past few days that Herman Cain was not and has never been ready for the primetime, and eventually his polling will come to reflect that, as Republican voters cling to another flavor of the month that isn’t Mitt Romney.

    People who think Herman Cain would be a terrible president haven’t brought *anything* upon themselves. Republicans are the ones who have created Herman Cain, and I’m sure there are plenty of them who are equally frustrated that someone who is intentionally ignorant about global affairs, Islamophobic, not vetted, without an actual Presidential campaign and ultimately not qualified to be president of the United States has become the standard bearer for their party, at least momentarily. That’s of their own creation, and those of us who continue to ignore Herman Cain’s candidacy for the sideshow that it is are in no way fueling it.

  • lakia

    “”degrades the presidency into a position that any random political loser can have a strong shot at.”

    Already happened last election.

  • bfa123

    I dunno…I like this column. Cain’s not the outsider he pretends to be.
    Also, what’s going on with these sexual harassment charges?

  • River_Tam

    Cool trivia, predictably bad column. I don’t even feel like getting into it anymore – it just feels like a waste of time.

  • InterestedInBiology

    > it just feels like a waste of time.

    As opposed to the rest of your commenting…

  • eli2015

    Really interesting article, but odd conclusion. Are you saying that Cain decided to run for president because he didn’t feel noticed by the public?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Can you take a candidate who wears a superfly pimp-master hat seriously?

  • anonymouz

    I really like his campaign manager, Mark Block. Reminds me of the Beastie Boys in sabotage.

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