The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

My 2007 Interview With Herman Cain

NOTE: Herman Cain’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign has brought new attention to the Atlanta businessman and talk-radio personality. I first interviewed Cain at the studios of WSB in Atlanta in 2007, less than a year after he had been treated for cancer. — RSM

Speaking out with a smile
Radio host Herman Cain keeps cancer, GOP in line
By Robert Stacy McCain
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
ATLANTA — Herman Cain laughs a lot, and he has lots to be happy about — including a successful business career and a popular talk radio show. Inside the Atlanta studios of WSB Radio on a recent Saturday, he told his listeners about a local newspaper columnist who wrote that “being a black Republican is not only oxymoronic, it’s simply plain old-fashioned moronic” and singled out Mr. Cain as a “token” and a “sorry opportunist.”
“He forgot – I’ve got a radio show,” Mr. Cain says as he issues an on-air challenge for the columnist to call in, then goes to commercial, laughing all the while.
Such cheerfulness might seem surprising for a man who, in March 2006, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to his liver. After two months of chemotherapy, Mr. Cain underwent surgery in August — doctors removed one-third of his colon and 70 percent of his liver, he says — and then it was another two months of chemotherapy. And he is laughing.
“Now you’re looking at a man who’s cancer-free — and all my liver’s grown back,” says the 61-year-old former executive. But don’t call him a “survivor,” he says. “I’m a winner,” says Mr. Cain, former chief executive officer of the Godfather’s Pizza chain.
A graduate of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, he worked for the Department of the Navy and Coca-Cola before joining the Pillsbury Co. in 1977. When Pillsbury acquired the Burger King restaurant chain, he went to work managing the chain’s operations in the Philadelphia area. His success with Burger King won him appointment in 1986 as president of Godfather’s, another Pillsbury acquisition. He helped turn around the division and then led a management team that bought the chain from Pillsbury.
Now retired from the restaurant business, Mr. Cain keeps busy. He is a member of four corporate boards (including Hallmark Cards and Whirlpool), a member of the Morehouse board of trustees, an author and syndicated columnist, a regular guest on Fox News Channel’s “Cost of Freedom” business program and, most recently, a radio talk-show host, frequently filling in on Atlanta-based Neal Boortz’s syndicated program as well as hosting his own two-hour show each Saturday.
Then there is politics. In 2004, Mr. Cain sought the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. In the Republican primary, he placed second to Johnny Isakson, who later won the Senate seat. But Mr. Cain’s outspoken conservatism during the campaign won him many admirers – including Mr. Miller, who wrote the foreword to Mr. Cain’s 2005 book, “They Think You’re Stupid: How Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must Do to Keep It.”
What Republicans have done lately doesn’t please Mr. Cain, who expresses the same frustrations that many other conservatives have voiced about the party in recent years.
“They didn’t stick to principles,” he says, when asked why Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections. He criticizes Republicans in Washington for spending irresponsibly, failing to pass Social Security reform and, especially, not heeding their grass-roots supporters on immigration policy.
“They were not listening to people outside Washington. If they would have listened, they wouldn’t have lost,” says Mr. Cain, explaining that he finds people are eager to tell him their views on political issues.
“I’m like a walking poll. .. It’s not scientific, but it’s pretty darned consistent,” he says of what he heard about immigration last year “Republicans were screaming, ‘Secure the borders first.’ ”
Republicans in Washington “are too afraid of their political shadows,” Mr. Cain says. He adds that many of his colleagues on corporate boards are so “disgusted” with Republicans that they have stopped contributing to the party, telling him: “When they start acting like Republicans, I’ll write some more checks.”
Considering the party’s prospects in 2008, he asks, “Where’s the excitement? Where’s the fun? There is none.”
Yet, Mr. Cain is clearly having lots of fun. He performs his two-hour radio show standing up, and provokes a reaction with his criticism of the Rev. Al Sharpton (“He gets away with inciting racial tensions, but doesn’t want to be held accountable.”) and liberals who, he says, use “name-calling .. to discourage black people from thinking for themselves.”
Soon, callers fill the phone lines, waiting to share their opinions with Mr. Cain, who keeps smiling and laughing even when talking with angry callers who disagree with him.
Mr. Cain is grateful for simple pleasures such as “watching my grandkids grow up,” he says, recalling the months he spent in treatment after his cancer diagnosis. “I was saying my prayers .. and I had a whole lot of people sending up prayers for me,” he says.
“You don’t stop living because you’re fighting cancer. .. If everybody stopped living because they were fighting cancer, one-third of the adult population would be sitting home waiting to die,” Mr Cain says, adding that he has no interest in sitting around. “Death’s going to have to catch me, and it’s going to have to run fast.”