Wags who predicted that Herman Cain was really running for a talk show sinecure during his farcical presidential have just been vindicated. The popular conservative talk radio host Neal Boortz announced on Monday that he is retiring and that Herman Cain, the former restaurant executive who briefly led the Republican presidential field, will replace him. According to the press release on Boortz’s website, “[Boortz’s] last day hosting The Neal Boortz Show, which premiered on News/Talk WSB in 1993 and now airs on more than 200 radio stations with six million weekly listeners, will be January 21, 2013.” That, of course, is Inauguration Day. “If it’s Barack Obama, then I’m going to disappear into the mountains and come out after he has destroyed this country. If it’s Mitt Romney, we’ll start drinking as the show begins,” Boortz said on his Monday program.
Cain offered fulsome praise for Boortz, saying in a statement, “Neal has spent his career as a bold, vocal advocate of what is right in this world and condemning that which is not. I promise the torch Boortz is handing off to me will blaze as bright, as bold, and as loud as ever. Also, I am ecstatic that Neal has kept the radio host’s chair warm for me all these years. He may be ‘The TalkMaster,’ but Neal’s listeners know I’m the ‘The Dean of the University of Common Sense.’ ”
It is ironic that Boortz has chosen an African-American successor, given that he has a long history of overt professional racism. Before he got into broadcasting, Boortz worked as a speechwriter for Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, an ardent segregationist. Maddox first gained political prominence by chasing African-American would-be patrons out of his restaurant with a handgun. In 1976 Maddox challenged his nemesis Jimmy Carter for the presidency by running on George Wallace’s former American Independence Party line. Time called Maddox a “strident racist.”
On his Atlanta-based radio show, Boortz has frequently indulged in vulgar race baiting. In a 2009 disquisition that would have made Maddox proud, Boortz called for removing the voting rights of certain recipients of government aid. “Everybody still living in a hotel or a trailer after Hurricane Katrina: no votes,” he declared. “Can’t vote again ever, ever. Nobody living in Section 8 housing should be allowed to vote.” Boortz seems to harbor a particularly strong antipathy for Katrina victims. As Media Matters reports, in 2008, “Boortz made disparaging remarks about Hurricane Katrina victims, stating, ‘When these Katrina so-called refugees were scattered about the country, it was just a glorified episode of putting out the garbage.’ Boortz also described New Orleans as ‘a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves.’” In 2006, Media Matters noted a sexist and racist attack Boortz made against Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). “Boortz said that McKinney’s ‘new hair-do’ makes her look ‘like a ghetto slut,’ like ‘an explosion at a Brillo pad factory,’ like ‘Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence,’ and like ‘a shih tzu.’”
Cain will make an interesting replacement for Boortz in other ways as well. Whereas Boortz delivers his curmudgeonly assertions in an angry, dyspeptic growl, Cain puts a happier, more comical face on hard-right conservatism. Their politics are not identical. According to a slobbering, wholly uncritical profile from Monday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Younger listeners have no way of knowing, but Boortz has actually mellowed over the years.” Boortz claims to be a libertarian who has given up his “doctrinaire” social conservatism. He says he has no problem with gay marriage. Clearly, race is an exception to Boortz’s supposed mellowing, although Boortz’s record of making racially inflammatory remarks is not mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Constitution story. Cain adheres to all the mainstream socially conservative bigotries, including those against equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Cain has previously hosted his own radio show on the same Atlanta station as Boortz, and he currently appears twice weekly as a guest on Boortz’s show and has served as a guest host for Boortz in the past.
Cain’s path to media stardom has become a regular feature of modern Republican politics. Just as Mike Huckabee skyrocketed to the top of the Republican presidential pack in 2008 on the strength of his affability and cockamamie tax plan, so did Cain. And just as Huckabee has a talk show, now so too does Cain. And if you think Cain—who repeatedly demonstrated an alarming lack of knowledge or even respect for knowledge on important global issues during the campaign—is unqualified to be a prominent political commentator, just look at the ranks of conservative talking heads he joins: former disc jockeys like Rush Limbaugh and political celebrities like Sarah Palin.
The only strange thing at all about Cain’s current situation is his remarkable resiliency. Here is a married man who was accused by multiple women of having affairs and sexually harassing employees. In the same week that the entire country chewed over its disgust with John Edwards, Cain got a new talk show. That probably tells us something about the difference between conservatives and liberals. While the former supposedly stand for family values, they’ve repeatedly shown that they don’t care at all whether their own leaders practice what they preach. Just ask one of Cain’s former rivals in the campaign, like Newt Gingrich, or one of his future rivals on the airwaves, like Rush Limbaugh.