'Not Going With the Flow': Herman Cain, Ann Coulter, and Breaking Convention
Illustration by Dylan C. Lathrop
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When conservative flamethrower Ann Coulter appeared on Sean Hannity's show a few days ago to defend Herman Cain, she uttered a particularly cringeworthy sentence: "Our blacks are so much better than their blacks." But after that, she said something interesting:
To become a black Republican, you don't just roll into it. You're not going with the flow. You have fought against probably your family members, probably your neighbors. You have thought everything out.
In a way, she's right. Herman Cain didn't grow up conservative (the church he's been attending since he was 10 is a liberal bastion in Atlanta), but even if he had, black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Cain likely had to deal with fallout when he became an anti-abortion activist and, later, a conservative candidate for president. Ann Coulter's explanation that an outsider has "thought everything out" is a common refrain from anybody who's switched teams, not just conservatives. Many progressive leaders claim their views are more credible because of their strict Catholic upbringing or rightwing hometown. When you break with the norm, you can alienate your family or a larger community. But you gain respect from the new crowd by "earning" your politics. The zeal of the converted.
Of course, going against the grain sends a different message depending on where you're coming from—and which side you choose. For a former porn star who's now a born-again Christian, it's a way to condemn counterculture. For Warren Buffett, it's a way to transcend privilege. A rural Texan-turned-radical leftist can claim intimate knowledge of her enemies. Regardless of whether "not going with the flow" is opportunistic or genuine, defying convention gets attention. Here are a few prominent examples.
The conservative of color
Current poster child: Herman Cain
See also: Marco Rubio, Allen West, Condi Rice, Clarence Thomas
Risks: Propping up a party hostile to civil rights, affirmation action, and immigrants
Gains: Notoriety in a minority-bereft crowd; book deals; the support of Ann Coulter
The anti-feminist woman
Current poster child: Ann Coulter
See also: Phyllis Schlafly, Michele Bachmann
Variation: "Conservative feminists"—Sarah Palin and the Mama Grizzlies, Nikki Haley, Christina Hoff Summers
Risks: Aligning yourself with a movement that opposes reproductive rights, affordable childcare, flexible hours, and broad access to health care.
Gains: Book deals; the trust and comfort of men who are otherwise intimidated by female authority.
Current poster child: Stephen Baldwin
See also: Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Dawn Eden, born-again virgins
Risks: Teen pregnancy; being the boring one at the party
Gains: Christian rock; megachurches
The heartland leftist
Current poster child: Michael Moore
See also: Thomas Frank, Joe Bageant, Ann Richards
Risks: Awkward family dinners
Gains: The view from the belly of the beast; credibility points from coastal latte liberals
The filthy rich liberal
Current poster child: Warren Buffett
See also: Bill Gates, Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson, pretty much every celebrity, the people on the We Are the 1 Percent Tumblr
Risks: Inability to dredge up sympathy; dirty looks at the country club
Gains: Keeping it "real"; having your cake and eating it, too