“They’re not scared of you, they’re scared of what you represent….freedom.” — Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider
Did you ever notice how much Herman Cain looks like Peter Fonda?
That would be Fonda in his role as Easy Rider‘s “Captain America.” Roaring off into the horizon on his red, white and blue custom built motorcycle — an American flag on the back of his jacket, a matching helmet strapped to the bike? While Born to Be Wild thunders in the background?
Doesn’t the Godfather’s Pizza CEO look just like the late actor Patrick Swayze getting ready to lead the Greasers in a rumble with the Socials in The Outsiders?
Surely you can see Herman Cain as separated at birth from George C. Scott as Patton?
No? Take another look. A good look. Because what you are seeing with Mr. Cain is an American classic.
Powerful in concept — and even more potent as reality.
And more to the point: The Outsider is totally, utterly an American phenomenon.
To understand why a Frank Luntz focus group was wowed by Herman Cain (as seen in this clip from Sean Hannity’s TV show) and Rick Santorum during the recent South Carolina GOP/Fox debate, why the surging poll numbers for Donald Trump or the now enduring popularity of Sarah Palin, the potential for upset that lies in Iowa with a Michele Bachmann, the fanatic applause for Ron Paul and ongoing fascination with Newt Gingrich is to understand one very important fact about America. A fact that lies at the heart of American politics, culture, heroes, and an entire way of life — indeed a fact about the heart of America itself.
America is a nation of Outsiders.
You could be talking Georges — Washington or W or Patton. Movies or magazine editors, whether Fonda and pals Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper
in Easy Rider or Sylvester Stallone as Rocky or National Review‘s William F. Buckley Jr. (here squaring off with the wonderfully illustrative liberal elitism of Gore Vidal who loftily proclaims — doubtless correctly — that his views on Vietnam are shared by Western Europe even if they happen “to be a novelty in Chicago.” Oh yes, Buckley also shoots back at a poisonous Vidal that “I will sock you in the goddamn face.” Outsider versus Insider doesn’t get better than this exchange).
Sports? From boxing’s Muhammad Ali (here reading his poem “I am the Greatest” while still Cassius Clay) to baseball’s George Steinbrenner, Outsiders have always been — and are right now — found everywhere in America. Real estate? Here’s you-know-who firing away. The business of pizza? This Cain takedown of Bill Clinton has become a classic all by itself.
The point is made fresh yet again by the success of the crew from the current hit Disney movie Lemonade Mouth, taken from a novel of the same name by Mark Peter Hughes. The plot? A group of — yes, Outsiders — meet in high school detention and form a rock band to signal their displeasure with the school power structure and its “Establishment” kids. The film has rocketed its stars and their music and message (“Be Heard! Be Strong! Be Proud!”) into the spotlight with America’s tweens predictably going nuts over the whole thing.
Which makes them not much different than their parents and grandparents, who have channeled their Outsiderness into another Outsider institution, albeit a more adult version.
That institution would be — that’s right — talk radio. Talk radio as an institution, not to mention its stars are the epitome of Outsiderdom. Take a good look once again at this clip of Rush Limbaugh giving his now famous CPAC speech a couple years ago. Rush as some tuxedo-clad Inside-the-Beltway White House Correspondents Dinner Establishment regular who is going along to get along? Are you kidding? Sean Hannity afraid to say the obvious to an Islamic radical that the Establishment-types wouldn’t dream of uttering for fear of offending ? Mark Levin pulling his punches? It will never happen.
They are, rightly, seen in their daily appearances as Outsiders at work. It’s not just that their listeners expect a certain something from Rush and his colleagues in the talk radio business. The key here is the audience — American to their toes — understands exactly that the hosts are as American as they are themselves. Which is to say — Outsiders. And the Outsiders behind the microphones have a considerable ability to articulate precisely what so many millions of Outsiders in their audience are thinking but lack a microphone to broadcast.
And who can forget this Outsider who totally upended the American Establishment?
Not to mention Fox News, created by Australian-turned-American Rupert Murdoch, the latter described thusly by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair:
… he was an outsider, and he had balls. The “outsider” thing was crucial to understanding him. He remained both immensely powerful and, at certain quite elemental points, anti-Establishment.
As the GOP presidential field warms up, what better place to have a real feel for what we are all witnessing with Herman Cain then taking a look back at the now-classic novel by S.E. Hinton. The novel-turned-iconic movie called — that’s right: The Outsiders.
The movie based on the novel is today even more of a classic than the book, if that’s possible. The cinematic version helping to launch the film careers of seven very young actors, all of whom became major movie stars, some more major than others, as a result. The seven would be the aforementioned Patrick Swayze plus Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, and C. Thomas Howell.
The story of The Outsiders, set in 1965 Tulsa, Oklahoma, is about socioeconomic rivalry, a yawning class divide between the town’s Establishment — in this case rich kid “Socials” and the poorer, unpolished but every bit as smart and charming “Greasers.” Written by a teenager (really!) to describe a rivalry between two gangs in her high school, Susan Eloise Hinton’s book was so powerful her publisher’s main change was to degenderize the author’s name. There was a fear that if the public realized it was a young girl who had written a book featuring so many young male characters and their encounters with violence the book would not sell. Unrealistic and all that. Thus S.E. Hinton is listed as the author, Hinton deliberately writing the book from the point of view of the Greasers to indicate her sympathy for the less well-off underdogs. The Outsiders.
Published in 1967, the book has sold more than 14 million copies, and still sells 500,000 a year. The book is still hotly controversial, number 43 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.
A class of middle-schoolers in Fresno, California so loved the book — and the film The Godfather — that they took matters into their own hands and sent the book to director Francis Ford Coppola, newly famous as the hot young director who made the Oscar-winning mafia film. Amazingly, Coppola read the book, fell in love with it and the rest is cinematic history. Hinton’s underdog Greaser characters brought to life in the 1983 film version (“Ponyboy” — Howell, “Johnny” — Macchio, “Dally” — Dillon, “Darry” — Swayze, “Two-Bit” — Estevez, and “Steve” — Cruise) were the epitome of Outsiderdom
Why is any of this important in terms of understanding the 2012 election? Understanding the appeal of Herman Cain? Or perhaps more importantly, understanding America and its role in the world?
The story S.E. Hinton conjured was not something made from whole cloth.
From the moment the Pilgrims — religious outcasts from the English religious establishment — set footprints into the soil of what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the place that eventually became the home of the Boston Tea Party, Lexington, Concord and the “shot heard ’round the world” that opened the American Revolution, America has been the home of what S.E. Hinton called “The Outsiders.”
But exactly what does it mean to be an Outsider?
Perhaps it takes a Brit like Tony Blair — a former British Prime Minister more sensitive than most to the undercurrents of life — to not only understand Rupert Murdoch, but neatly sum up the driving force behind the notable crowd mentioned above, both real and fictional. They have — as Blair puts it bluntly of Outsider Murdoch — “balls.” Something equally true of Fox’s Roger Ailes. Of the Establishment Way, Outsiders are not impressed — particularly because they see the Establishment as timid, fearful, snobbish with nothing to be snobbish about, unimaginative and all too frequently incompetent. Spanning the American centuries from 1620 until today — from the Pilgrims to Lemonade Mouth, from real life Americans like a Washington or Patton or Limbaugh to movie-portrayals of Americans in films like Easy Rider, Rocky or The Outsiders and Lemonade Mouth or the success of a Fox News — what Blair correctly perceives is a “quite elemental” force in America that is instinctively anti-Establishment.
Simply put, if one divides the world between those who are accepted by “those who count”, an “Establishment” of almost any kind in any field — and their opposites — it is the latter who define whether one is or is not an “outsider.” Those who “count” can be considered as such for a variety of reasons. Sometimes money — but not always. Sometimes political power — but not always. Sometimes style, or ability or looks or manner, attitude or simple popularity with select peers. But not always.
But that there is a divide between the Establishment and the Outsiders is unquestionable — and always, always sensed even if unspoken.
It is this divide that shows itself vividly whether watching Herman Cain verbally eviscerate Bill Clinton or Rick Santorum bluntly, heedless of being politically correct, describe Barack Obama on abortion.
This is the yawning chasm between Outsider Sarah Palin and Insider Katie Couric. Between Outsider Michele Bachmann and the Establishment Chris Matthews (as seen in this clip showing an entire panel of The Establishment Media — “The Socials” — at work on the deeply Establishment MSNBC as they haughtily dice up Bachmann). Or you can see the Greaser at work in this discussion by Newt Gingrich of the liberal elite.
And while in modern America conservatism has become the political faith of Outsiders, liberals occasionally try and cast themselves in the role. Jimmy Carter played this theme relentlessly and successfully in 1976. The candidate Obama of 2008 successfully parlayed his supposed-Outsider status into a winning campaign over the onetime Outsider who had morphed into a champion Establishmentarian — Hillary Clinton.
But was Obama really an Outsider at all? Ever? Or was he just playing one on TV? In the world of modern establishment liberalism — which in fact is The Establishment — Obama had blue-chip credentials right from the get go. He was black — and the Establishment professes (and professes is the word) a love of minorities and women. (Unless, of course, they are Outsiders — a Clarence Thomas or a Marco Rubio or a Sarah Palin or, as will be made plainer with every political success he scores — Herman Cain.) Obama was a community organizer, a Harvard Law graduate and so on and on. All of which in their disparate fashion are touchstones not of Outsiderdom but of the liberal Establishment. Once elected, the mask came off and every liberal — not to mention far left — Establishment interest group from Big Labor to Big Government to Big Law to Big Enviros have had the run of the White House and America’s policy setting apparatus.
And the Outsider Nation that is America did what came naturally. The country rebelled.
Which brings us back to the reason for Herman Cain’s success in that South Carolina debate.
Whatever his fate in this election season, Herman Cain is a vivid reminder of the potent Outsider nature of America itself. Americans became Americans by and large by fleeing — and fleeing is the word — what passed for the Establishment in their countries of origin. This is why America as a nation has succeeded in angering one Establishment after another since its founding. It has managed in its barely two-plus centuries to infuriate the Establishments of Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Communism, the European Union, the United Nations, Islam and more.
And it will keep right on doing so — because the very nature of the American idea itself is based on an Outsider concept. All men are created equal, said the Declaration of Independence. Not just those who went to Harvard, have the right connections, speak a certain language, have a politically correct skin color or gender or tons of money or hang out with the perceived In Crowd in high school or anywhere else. Whether that “In Crowd” is defined as the elitists of American mainstream media or radical Islam or the European Union or the snooty kids from Lemonade Mouth — whatever and wherever and whomever, to Outsiders it matters not.
Thus a country that is being mandated by Insiders into a health care system that reeks of a European welfare state quite expectedly rebels. No system premised, as is Obamacare, on the model that an elite Insider group of alleged health care experts is going to be calling the shots on your health care is survivable. Why? It translates instantly and badly as the notion of becoming a country where, as was once said in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are more equal than others. Something already evidenced in the rush to get waivers from the government to escape this or that clause of Obamacare.
Which may help to understand just why Herman Cain and some of his other fellow Outsider GOP candidates are so popular these days. They are looking the In Crowd straight in the eye and saying, to borrow from the old fable, that the Emperor has no clothes. We know what you’re about — and it’s not about America.
Congressman Paul Ryan, he of the revolutionary Ryan Budget, has put the problem this way:
The Progressivist vision is to create a new American person who no longer strives to better oneself but accepts one’s station in life — and looks to government to help cope not only with difficulties but with every important personal decision….The passivity this way of living encourages means that most people abandon the right to govern themselves, leaving bureaucratic experts and political leaders in control of every important aspect of individual and social life.
In winning over that Frank Luntz focus group the other night in South Carolina — a group where he had only one supporter before the debate began — Herman Cain is illustrating in person these lines from Easy Rider stars Nicholson and Fonda, a perhaps more colorful way of saying what Paul Ryan is saying:
Nicholson: They’re trying to make everybody look like Yul Brynner…You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I don’t understand what’s going on with it.
Fonda: Everybody got chicken man, that’s what happened.
Everybody got chicken.
Herman Cain is no chicken.
He’s an Outsider in a nation of Outsiders. Cain is, in Hinton’s Outsiders terminology, a conservative Greaser taking on the Republican Socials and all the Socials who run Washington. He is the quintessential American in the heart of America.
And Americans are no chickens either.
The rumble between America’s Greasers and Socials has begun.