I've been remiss in my Herman Cain blogging. The GOP presidential hopeful has been the subject of several friendly profiles by George Weigel in Slate, Joshua Green in the Atlantic and Bryan Curtis for the Daily Beast. It is a nice to see a socially conservative and free market-oriented Republican get positive attention from usually liberal-leaning news outlets, but if Cain gets anywhere near the White House (something I doubt will happen, but we'll see), the environment will turn very hostile very fast. I suspect there are three things driving the fairly positive coverage of Cain. First, Cain was the first and so far only credible Republican to announce an exploratory committee. Second, Cain seems to be giving reporters access and that access is being rewarded with the reporters letting him get some of his story out. Third, Cain is a curiosity rather than a threat. I think the last one is the most important for how the mainstream media will treat Cain. Actually I think Weigel and Green will try (emphasize try) to be fair to Cain come-what-may, but if Cain gets the Republican nomination he can expect something like the Sarah Palin treatment from other outlets.
I was reading some blog comments the other day (sorry, can't remember which one), and one comment stuck out. The commenter wrote something to the effect that it was Palin's personality and actions rather than her politics or social background that drove liberals nuts. The commenter rightly pointed out that Mike Huckabee is about as rural and just as (I would say more) socially conservative than Palin, but Huckabee doesn't generate nearly as much liberal hostility. That is true, but Mike Huckabee also never got to be the Republican VP candidate. Huckabee never became a real threat to Obama becoming President.
One thing to keep in mind about Palin is that she has alienated different social groups at different moments. According to the most recent poll, Palin has a high disapproval rating, but that is a result of a lot of things happening - some her responsibility, some not. The thing is, the liberal hatred and loathing of Palin predated the events (like flubbing the interviews and quitting being governor partway through her term in order to become a professional celebrity) that reduced Palin's favorability among persuadable constituencies.
Many liberals hated her upon learning that she was chosen to be the GOP VP candidate and before she had a chance to say or do anything interesting on the national stage. One day she is a mostly unknown governor. McCain picks her and she gives a couple of completely uninteresting generic "mavericky" speeches (this is before her convention speech.) Then you have the despicable US Weekly cover, the first of many of Andrew Sullivan's Palin-related psychotic episodes, and the New York Times showing a kind of prompt, sloppy and hostile interest in Palin's past political associations that it never showed in Obama's.
If Huckabee or Cain really threaten to become the Republican presidential nominee, then we should expect a similar outpouring of venom and irrationality. We can expect to hear that electing Huckabee or Cain will turn American into some combination of The Republic of Gilead, Deliverance and the Third Reich. That isn't a reason not to nominate a Cain or a Huckabee or a Palin. The irrationality, malice and cultural bigotry of much of the media against social conservatives is more of a weakness than a strength. But the present good (or even decent) coverage will not last and they should be ready when the change happens.
Correction: The writer for Slate who profiled Cain was of course Dave Weigel and not George Weigel (thanks to commenter Art Deco for bringing the error to my attention.)