Raised in pre-civil rights Georgia by working class parents (his mother was a maid and his father worked as a janitor, a barber and a chauffeur), Cain got a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College and then a master's in computer science at Purdue. While in school, he worked for the Navy in ballistics. Upon leaving the Navy, he entered the heart of corporate America, working first for the Coca-Cola Co., later for Pillsbury and then Burger King. The division of Burger King he headed went from the least profitable to the most profitable in three years. He performed similar magic for Godfather's Pizza, but in a shorter time, turning the company to profitability in a mere 14 months. He served as chairman and later CEO of the National Restaurant Association, and he also became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, before achieving the true pinnacle of human achievement with a syndicated newspaper column.
Cain's proposal to reform Social Security along the lines that Chile and 36 other nations have adopted is the sanest entitlement policy prescription of the campaign thus far -- and with Mitt Romney playing it safe and Rick Perry having taken so much heat for the Ponzi scheme wording -- it is likely to remain so.
Cain's 999-tax plan is similarly refreshing. Our 11,045-page tax code, barnacled by layer after layer of complexity and special interest loopholes, is a drag on productivity and national sanity. A government watchdog agency estimates that Americans spend 6.1 billion hours annually complying with the code. Something like Cain's plan would cut the Gordian knot.
But as historian and political analyst Richard Brookhiser put it, in another year when the political world was rhapsodizing about some other newcomer (it may even have been Ross Perot), "The presidency is not an entry-level post." It isn't that Cain lacks the stature to be president, it's that he lacks the kind of experience the office requires. Though we perpetually disparage politicians in America (for good reasons much of the time), it cannot be denied that political skills are necessary in a political job. Beyond delivering a good speech, a successful president must know how to build coalitions, apply pressure to friends and foes alike, deal with a hostile press, appoint officials who won't embarrass the administration, handle ego and turf battles among his advisors and cabinet members, and know when to spend and when to husband political capital. And all of that is before he begins to deal with other nations.
Cain is a great American. His sudden rise in the presidential contest should (but won't) give pause to the bigots who have defamed conservatives and the Tea Party. But he is not our knight in shining armor. There may not be one. He'd make a heck of a Treasury Secretary though.