Barack Obama has a permanent place in history as the man who proved Americans would elect, and likely re-elect, a black president.
Whatever else historians conclude about Obama, the racial breakthrough is certain to grow in significance over time.
Herman Cain's legacy, although lesser, will also be noteworthy because he has morphed into the nation's first truly post-racial presidential candidate.
Despite his meteoric rise in the polls, Republican voters will ultimately reject Cain without any nagging concerns that they are doing so because he's black.
Obama proved he is smart enough, compassionate enough and –– despite the destructive partisanship of the moment –– politically savvy enough to lead the nation, regardless of his race. Cain, on the other hand, is so unqualified and so lacking in the expertise needed to lead the nation, that he can be easily dismissed without any hint of racial bias.
Herman Cain has no chance whatsoever of being the Republican nominee for president.
His surprising poll numbers reflect the deep division within the party. By telling pollsters they favor Cain, few voters mean they want him as president –– they mean they're unhappy with a remarkably lackluster field.
In the early stages, every presidential campaign has its share of pretenders. Some, like Donald Trump, flirt with running to exercise their egos.
Others, like Michelle Bachmann, are angling for face-time in the national spotlight and, perhaps, a shot at the vice presidency.
In Cain's case, the pizza executive launched his campaign to promote his book. He had no serious political organization, and his schedule was tailored more to selling books than winning primaries.
Numerous factors disqualify Cain from serious consideration as a presidential candidate, but there's little need to look beyond his centerpiece tax plan known as 9-9-9.
Cain would replace the current system with a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax. There would be few exceptions in any of the three categories –– although Cain's handlers are already adding them, such as an exception for selling "used" things, including houses.
As widely noted on both sides of the aisle, Cain's oversimplified plan would wreck the already troubled economy.
It would, incredibly, serve to further reduce the tax obligations of the wealthy, while dramatically increasing the burden on the poor and middle class.
Cain's tax plan, like his entire candidacy, is only relevant to the extent that it underscores the nation's problems.
The current tax system is unjust and sorely in need of simplification. Beyond that, however, the nation will never adopt a 9-9-9 formula, nor will it have a President Cain.
Even most conservatives will reject Cain after fully digesting the fact that he opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, plans to privatize Social Security, and has said that Muslims would have to take a loyalty oath to serve in his administration.
Referring to his unexpected jump in the polls, Cain wondered, "Will I be the flavor of the week?" Then, answering with a quip that sounded as half-baked as his campaign, he said: "No, because Haagen-Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time." (The company has discontinued the flavor, saying it failed to meet expectations.)
In an interview with CNN, Cain said black voters have been "brainwashed" into voting for liberals and are not "open minded" when it comes to considering a conservative point of view.
The remark is calculatingly designed to attract white support.
Cain is merely a token of the frustration Republican voters feel with the state of the nation and the state of their party.
If nothing else, it's a sign of progress that Herman Cain can be referred to as a "token" without even a hint of racism.
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker, and also the long-time host of “Candid Camera.” He can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.