The cliché: Herman Cain is polling well these days with Republican primary voters and there's a favorite way to describe his improved fortunes. On her Washington Post blog last week, Jennifer Rubin headlined a post "Cain is able to shake up the GOP race." Today the FiveThirtyEight blog on The New York Times titled a post, "How to Know Whether Cain is Able". Yesterday, The New York Post had "Cain claiming he is able." Even the Canadians joined in today when Macleans wrote simply, "Cain is Able".
Where's it from: It's the oldest of sibling rivalries, of course, that of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Applying it to Herman Cain isn't quite that old, but it does go back pretty far. An Associated Press profile of Cain when he was leading the National Restaurant Association in 1997 featured the pun in a caption. (The article's headline "Pizza Exec Hungry For Challenges" says a lot about the headline writer's sense of humor) The most recent outbreak of this Cain pun seems like it can be credited to the coverage after his first appearance in a GOP debate in May, and specifically an NPR blog post from May 9, headlined "Cain Was Able In GOP's First Debate."
Why it's catching on: Looking more closely at the actual Cain and Abel origin story, Tommy Christopher at Mediaite reports that Rick Perry's friends have started calling him "Abel" because Cain beat him so badly in the Florida straw poll last week. Indeed, Cain's surge in the GOP polls does shift the power toward him. However, the Cain fans driving around with "Herman Cain is Able -- to Beat Obama in 2012" bumper stickers should perhaps study their Bible a bit closer and recall that God eventually casts Cain out of Eden and condemns him to restlessly wander the barren earth. May we venture to say that's not what his supporters were going for? On the other hand, given the volatile fortunes of the GOP candidates-of-the-week, it is perhaps what the savvier political observers intended to imply with their headlines.
Why else? People might just like making terrible puns about the "Hermanator" (even more than they enjoy making puns about "Mittens" Romney.) The Daily Caller, for instance, has a headline on the homepage today that reads, "Romney gets Cained in stunning poll." And more than a few have shouted "Yes We Cain!" Perhaps also, in the identity politics-fueled coverage of presidential politics that has bred a rash of Rick Perry cowboy jokes, reporters are just at a bit of a loss. For a while, they were satisfied to make "pizza man" jokes about Cain, but having exhausted those and unable to peg him in a convenient identity stereotype, Bible puns might just be all they have left.