One could forgive Herman Cain for grinning like a Cheshire cat during Tuesday night’s GOP debate.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Mitt Romney, calling him a hypocrite because undocumented workers for a landscaping service once worked on his lawn. A couple guys with leaf blowers?
Cain went unscathed.
Yet the pizza king led the National Restaurant Association as CEO and president. You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry more dependent on immigrant labor — field to kitchen, legal and illegal.
It’s why the group supports comprehensive reform, workplace enforcement and border security, but also “a path to legalization for many currently undocumented employees.”
For all the righteous GOP talk about “enforce the laws we have now,” the association makes an important distinction: Current laws don’t provide adequate workers for our labor needs, not legally.
That’s a far more nuanced reply than its former leader has been providing.
Cain, you might have heard, popped off his mouth last weekend. He wasn’t satisfied to call for a cost-prohibitive and geographically unfeasible fence at the southern border.
He said it should be electrified. Zap the dishwashers?
He’s backed off a bit, claiming it was in jest.
Cain should have been cognizant of the imagery his words conjured, this nation’s despicable history of “strange fruit,” a reference to the lynching of black people.
Curious, don’t you think?
That a man could lead a major association that lobbies for sensible, realistic solutions to the problems of immigration, yet he repeatedly preaches ignorance.
I can’t tell you how many chefs/restaurant owners I’ve spoken with who admit they prefer hiring Latino workers because of their work ethic and ability to withstand the pressures of a hectic kitchen.
And it’s not because they are “stealing” jobs from eager American workers, even in this economy. Or that these employees wouldn’t gladly arrive legally, if such an avenue existed for them.
Chefs and restaurant owners nationwide know this truth. I suspect Cain does, too. But he’s in a contest where the spoils don’t go to the better-versed.
Cain and Perry should own the conversation on immigration. But they’d have to speak honestly and intelligently.
Instead, they assume every GOP voter has sopped up the talk-radio blather on immigration: low on facts and high on anxiety.
Not every conservative voter is satiated by the noise.
If Cain needs a refresher course, he can call up a few friends at his old association.
Maybe they can discuss it over lunch. Remaining mindful to who likely had a hand in preparing the meal.