Review: This is Herman Cain!

This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House, by Herman Cain. New York: Threshold Editions, 2011. 223 pp. $25 (hardcover).


In This is Herman Cain, Herman Cain attempts to convince the reader to support him in his run for president of the United States by telling the story of his life, with emphasis on his amazing business accomplishments. Although the impressive story is somewhat undercut by Cain’s mixed politics and religious (even superstitious) beliefs, this self-confident, ambitious, and capable business leader appears to be an admirable man.

Cain recounts his early childhood, growing up in segregated Atlanta “po’, which is even worse than being poor” (p. 1). His father “worked three jobs: as a barber, as a janitor at the Pillsbury Company, and as a chauffeur at the Coca-Cola Company”; and his mother worked as a maid (p. 15). Nevertheless, thanks to his father’s influence, Cain had a positive attitude:

My attitude then—as it is to this very day—was that you take a seemingly impossible goal and you make it happen. That was one of the many lessons I learned from Dad: He never allowed his lack of formal education to be a barrier to his success. And he never allowed his starting point in life or the racial conditions of his time to be excuses for failing to pursue his dreams. Dad taught me the value of having dreams, the motivation to pursue them, and the determination to achieve them. (p. 14)

According to Cain, he was ambitious from a young age, pursuing a series of ever more-challenging goals. He studied mathematics in college, then went to work in the U.S. Navy as a mathematician. When he learned that he was being passed over for promotions because he had only a bachelor’s degree, he studied computer science at Purdue University and earned his master’s degree in “one intense, demanding year” (p. 42). He did get promoted, and, at twenty-seven, achieved his first goal—a job that earned more than $20,000 a year (p. 44).

Cain’s next goal was “to be vice president of something, for somebody, somewhere, someday.” With the help of his dad, he landed an interview with Coca-Cola; its management was so impressed that they hired Cain even though no jobs were available, creating for him the position “manager of management science” (p. 44).

At age thirty-two, Cain joined Pillsbury Company and advanced quickly, moving “from manager to director; from director to group director; . . . from group director to senior director of Management Information Systems for the Consumer Products Division”—and ultimately to corporate vice president of systems (pp. 46–47). Cain successfully handled the tough assignments he faced, as the following example indicates:

My biggest leadership challenge . . . came when Pillsbury acquired the Green Giant Company. I was responsible for integrating its MIS department into our Consumer Products Division’s MIS department. There were obvious redundancies in systems and positions that had to be eliminated without disrupting services. My task was particularly challenging: If we did not execute the integration smoothly, we could shut down the day-to-day operations of the largest and most profitable division of the company.

Under Cain’s guidance the integration “went as smooth as silk” (p. 46).

However, as things settled down, Cain recalls that he became “bored” with merely being a vice president and set his sights on being “president of something, for somebody, somewhere” (pp. 49–50). He immediately realized that he “did not have experience with profit and loss, or P&L responsibility for a business unit,” and was advised to “explore the possibility of going to work for Burger King” as a step toward becoming president of one of Pillsbury’s restaurant companies (p. 50). Cain met with executives at Burger King, discussed his ambitions, and was offered the opportunity of entering the company’s eighteen-month “fast-track” program, upon successful completion of which he would be made vice president and regional general manager, “a crucial step in [his] aim for a company presidency, as [he] would be given full P&L responsibility for [his] assigned region” (p. 51). Cain thought carefully about the offer:

In deciding whether to leave my comfortable corporate VP job at Pillsbury to start over at Burger King, I asked myself one question, the right question: Will this put me in a better position to become president of a business? I did not ask myself the wrong questions: How hard will my new job be? What will my friends think if they see me making hamburgers in a quick-service restaurant? What will I do if this new position does not work out as planned? As CEO of Self, I knew that those questions were not the right ones to be asking. I focused on my dream and I accepted the offer to join the company’s fast track program, with no guarantees. (p. 51)

With this, he left Pillsbury and enrolled in a management trainee program at Burger King, working from the ground up “putting buns and patties through the broiler” (p. 52). He excelled in the fast-track program and, as a first-time restaurant manager, increased sales by 20 percent (p. 58). Realizing his potential, Burger King management pulled him out of the usual eighteen-month program after only nine months and made him regional vice president of the Philadelphia region (p. 58). Later, Cain achieved his goal of becoming a president when he accepted an offer from Pillsbury to take over its failing Godfather’s Pizza division. Cain’s reforms as the division’s president returned Godfather’s to profitability within just eighteen months (pp. 61–63).

Over the course of his career, Cain says, he began to recognize the costliness of government regulations on the restaurant industry. During his tenure as vice president of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), Cain criticized the national health-care plan promoted by then President Bill Clinton in an interview with Omaha news anchor Loretta Carroll:

The President had insisted that under his scheme, the cost to restaurants would be only about two-and-one-half percent of their cost of doing business. I told Loretta that his observation was ludicrous. I knew that because I had consulted with the staff of the NRA, and they had found Mr. Clinton’s calculation to be mathematically incorrect. (p. 76)

Cain received national exposure following his public criticisms of Clinton’s plan and later served as an adviser to the Dole-Kemp ticket in the 1996 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Cain became a motivational speaker and highly rated radio talk-show host, and published four books in eight years (p. 81). He writes that, “if I hadn’t been on the radio I wouldn’t have been as familiar with the issues as I am now” (p. 88).

Although Cain begins every chapter with a biblical epigram, the early parts of the book focus on his business career and emphasize his accomplishments therein. As the book progresses, however, his religious views become more and more evident. Describing himself as “a prayerful man and faithful church participant since childhood” (p. 111), Cain says, “having that [radio] program was God’s way of forcing me to understand the critical issues confronting our nation” (p. 88). In describing his enthusiasm for his presidential run, he says he is “inspired by God Almighty” (p. 151) and has “God moments” (p. 138). Furthermore, in what is without a doubt the strangest chapter in the book, Cain describes his excessive encounters with the “special number,” forty-five (pp. 117–23). Apparently amazed by the fact that the number continues to appear in different contexts (such as restaurant tables and the number of words in his speeches), he seems to view it as some kind of sign from God (p. 148).

Cain’s religious beliefs clearly play an important role in his personal life, but, with the very notable exception of abortion, they fortunately do not substantially influence his policy positions. Still, his policy positions are a mixed bag, as revealed most extensively in a separate chapter and several appendixes.

Cain calls his approach to governing the “Cain Doctrine” (pp. 125–26). (Surprisingly, the domestic portion of the Cain Doctrine given in the book does not include his now famous 9-9-9 Plan.) Cain calls for cuts in personal and corporate tax rates, abolishing the capital gains tax, and ultimately replacing the current tax code with the “Fair Tax” (a national sales tax). Cain criticizes the government for having “amassed incredible amounts of control over our lives through its ability to regulate everything from emissions to food to businesses” (p. 177). Yet, Cain insists that the Federal Reserve is a necessary institution because in its absence “our money supply and the world’s supply . . . will not self-regulate and you will have chaos” (p. 83). He does, however, criticize the Fed for its goal of “managing unemployment,” arguing that its mission should be limited to “price stability and control of the money supply” (pp. 83–84). Cain promises to “work to create reasonable regulations that cut down on bureaucracy while helping businesses succeed” (p. 177). He wants to “replace Obamacare with a patient-centered, free market approach,” and he is critical of attempts to make health care a “‘right’ for all” (p. 179). Further, he promises “to cut the out-of control spending by the federal government” (p. 178).

Most of the foregoing domestic policy sounds decent on its face. But Cain’s views on immigration imply that government has a “right” to deny immigrants their right to pursue their own happiness. Cain insists that immigration “must occur legally, through the front door,” yet he shows no understanding of the multiple barriers to legal immigration, and does not advocate any liberalization of immigration laws (p. 127). Worse, he opposes a woman’s right to abortion and would support proposed legislation to protect the so-called “pain-capable unborn child” (pp. 127–28).

Judging from what he says in this biography, Cain’s foreign policy is, for the most part, quite good. For instance, Cain strongly supports Israel and clearly understands its value:

Israel is an ally of ours, and if some major conflict were to break out in that part of the world, we would need its assistance militarily, in terms of being a conduit for supplies, fuel, and other combat related resources. (p. 131)

Cain vows that “if you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the United States of America” (p. 131), and he is very critical of the Obama administration’s treatment of “America’s most loyal friend” (pp. 132–33). Remembering that, “it was radical Islamists who murdered almost three thousand people on 9/11,” Cain is properly worried about the penetration of Sharia law into American courts and insists that on his watch there will be only “American laws in American courts” (p. 134).

This is Herman Cain emphasizes Cain’s life and business accomplishments over his mixed religious and political views. With this emphasis the autobiography succeeds in portraying Herman Cain as a very likable, optimistic man who believes he has one more important personal goal to achieve: “to make America a better country again” (p. 115).

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