Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain chatted with the New York Times‘ Andrew Goldman, and the two talked a bit about race — most notably Cain’s recent comments about President Obama’s race.

Goldman: Before you announced your campaign, you said that the liberal establishment is scared that “a real black man might run against Barack Obama.” Are you suggesting Obama isn’t really black?

Cain: A real black man is not timid about making the right decisions, that’s what I meant. Look, I’m not getting into this whole thing about President Obama. It is documented that his mother was white and his father was from Africa. If he wants to call himself black, fine. If he wants to call himself African-American, fine. I’m not going down this color road.

When someone says they’re not “going down this color road,” the important next step is steering clear of the subject. Cain doesn’t seem to understand this.

The NYT interview was condensed — in other words, there was plenty that Cain said that wasn’t published — but according to the interview as it appeared in the Times magazine, the candidate went on to say the president isn’t really “a strong black man” that he can identify with, and that there’s nothing necessarily racist about Tea Party activists “calling him a Kenyan.”

So, to review, Herman Cain isn’t “going down this color road.” Cain is, however, inclined to tell the New York Times that he believes the president is not “a real black man,” is not “a strong black man,” and that racist right-wing placards are perfectly acceptable.

I wonder what Cain might have said if he were willing to go down the “color road”?

Postscript: Specifically on the Birther signs at right-wing rallies, Cain added, “I think those kinds of signs have stopped because the leaders of the Tea Party movement have instructed their folks that we don’t need to do that kind of stuff.”

But something doesn’t add up here. Cain had just said the signs aren’t offensive, and then said Tea Party leaders have sent out word to get rid of the signs. Why get rid of the placards if they’re inoffensive?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.