Both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain went to graduate school. Obama got a degree at Harvard Law School. Cain did his graduate work at Purdue and Burger King University. That doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the difference between Obama and Cain, but it explains a lot.
Obama and Cain are African-Americans, but there the likeness ends. Obama is a liberal, Cain a conservative. Their parents, their upbringing, their education, their careers, the lessons they learned from life — these are as dissimilar as where they’ve wound up, Obama in the White House and Cain as a successful corporate executive.
Cain grew up in a black section of Atlanta. His mother worked as a maid, his father as a barber, janitor and chauffeur. In Atlanta, Cain went to segregated Archer High School. In 1967, he graduated from Morehouse College, a bus ride away from his home. He majored in math.
Neither Cain nor Obama took part in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. Cain, now 65 years old, was in school, and Obama, 50, was a child. But Cain experienced segregation more than Obama did. In 1963, his applications were turned down at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.
But Cain says he benefited from the civil rights movement when he graduated from all-black Morehouse. “I received 25 job offers, and they came from some of America’s most respected and successful corporations,” he says.
Church attendance was a staple of Cain’s rearing, and today he’s an evangelical Christian. What did Cain and Obama learn from their families and education? “One of the most important lessons Dad taught us was not to feel like victims,” Cain writes. “He never felt like a victim. He never talked like a victim. And both our parents taught us not to think that the government owed us something. They didn’t teach us to be mad at this country.”
Cain entered the market economy, succeeding at Pillsbury, Godfather’s Pizza and Burger King. He writes about going to Burger King U., where new managers are taught the hamburger business. He learned “the broiler, steamer, burger board, Whopper board, specialty sandwich board and fry station.”
While still in school, Cain writes, “I began to develop my concept of being responsible for one’s success or failure in life — a concept I would later come to define as being a ‘CEO of Self’ — a time when many of the qualities of determination and leadership that I inherited from my dad began to show up.”
Yet it’s his faith in himself, along with his religion, that has led Cain to believe he can capture the presidency. He wasn’t deterred by losing a Senate bid in Georgia in 2004. When he took over Godfather’s Pizza, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. He mastered “pizzaology,” introduced the “Big Value” of two large pizzas for $12, and turned the company around.
Cain’s upbringing may explain his gift for delivering a conservative message with a friendly face, as Ronald Reagan did. “I also like to smile, laugh and have fun with people,” he says. Obama tends to lecture, which is not fun.
But Obama has the White House, a bulging war chest, a vast campaign staff, powerful interest groups and the media. Three or four Republican candidates have resources Cain cannot match. He has himself. But if all continues to go well for him, help may be on the way.
Fred Barnes is executive editor at The Weekly Standard, where this article is adapted from.