Political Animal


October 19, 2011 1:20 PM Blaming the victim

By Steve Benen

In several recent Republican debates, the audiences have drawn nearly as much attention as the candidates, cheering executions, shouting in support of allowing the uninsured die, and booing an Army soldier serving in Iraq.

Since that last one, the crowds have been better behaved — perhaps mindful of the perils of helping their Democratic rivals — but Greg Sargent flags a gem from last night, in which there was another round of inappropriate applause.

Two weeks ago, Herman Cain told economic victims, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” When CNN’s Anderson Cooper brought up the quote, the crowd applauded. When Cain stood by it, they applauded louder.

Greg Sargent called it an “iconic” moment. I agree.

But let’s also note Cain’s explanation during the event. On the one hand, Cain insists the unemployed and struggling families are to blame for their own plight. On the other hand, Cain also said, “I still stand by my statement, and here’s why. They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they’re directing their anger at the wrong place. Wall Street didn’t put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t do any good. Wall Street isn’t going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration.”

There’s obviously a breakdown in Cain’s logic here. He wants victims of the crash to blame themselves for being solely responsible for their own misfortunate — a sentiment that drew hearty cheers from the Republican audience — and he wants Americans to blame the White House. Cain should probably pick one.

The larger problem, though, is that Cain is wrong on both counts. On the first part of Cain’s argument, which absolves Wall Street of its responsibilities for the crisis, the thinking here is practically pathological — does he not know the role financial industry corruption and mismanagement played in the economic collapse?

On the second part of Cain’s argument, which blames President Obama, one can only wonder if perhaps Cain has suffered some kind of head trauma that interferes with his cognitive abilities. The recession began in 2007, before Obama had even won the Iowa caucuses. The economy fell off a cliff in the fall of 2008, before Obama had won the election. Since then, White House policies have helped improve economic conditions (the economy is now growing and adding jobs, as opposed to shrinking and hemorrhaging jobs).

That the audience saw fit to cheer all of this nonsense speaks volumes about the alternate GOP reality.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • martin on October 19, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Not at all, he's giving the people what they want.

  • Dan on October 19, 2011 1:31 PM:

    The real question is, will the majority of voters go along with Cain's analysis next election or not? Steve, I hate to say it but this is when the whole "telling stories" thing (as you derisively call it) comes into play. If Obama and the Dems had their Meta-narrative up and running from Day 1 of his administration (a narrative like: deregulation and tax cuts failed to do as promised for 99% of us and caused a massive crash and the GOP is responsible for these policies), and spent the last three years pushing it along with legislation, Cain and Co. would have a lot of trouble gaining this type of traction. Instead, a narrative gap appeared as Obama tried to be above partisan politics, avoided laying blame and now the GOP is writing the script. Are Obama's belated efforts with the AJA enough to counter it? Time will tell, but after the 2004 election results, call me a pessimist.

  • Sean Scallon on October 19, 2011 1:34 PM:

    But there was one candidate at the debate who said not to blame the victims.

    Instead he said to put the blame where it belongs, on the doorstep of the Federal Reserve of which Mr. Cain is their chief defender.

  • Rick Massimo on October 19, 2011 1:39 PM:

    "They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they’re directing their anger at the wrong place."

    Yeah, wherever did they get the loony notion that if they're mad at Wall Street, they should make their displeasure known to Wall Street? Go home and kick the cat, like a Real American!

  • emjayay on October 19, 2011 1:41 PM:

    Dan: Exactly. Sean: The Fed is just a little essential cog in the machinery and not that much to blame for anything.

    My question (again): How did someone as apparently simple minded as Cain do all the things he did and get to where he is today? I get simple minded being an effective political strategy (see: GWB, Sarah, etc.) But how did that work for him in actual job positions? A degree in computer science? Doesn't seem possible. Anyone?

  • c u n d gulag on October 19, 2011 1:42 PM:

    I'm waiting for someone to have a heart attack, or some other incident that requires EMS to show up, and watch as these people all boo and throw things at the EMS workers.

    And those are just the candidates!
    I wonder how the audience will react?

  • Josef K on October 19, 2011 1:47 PM:

    Every day lately there seems to be more and more evidence that Cain is truly, certifiably insane. Not because of what he's saying, but because I think he actually believes it all.

    Truly, truly frightening. Thank god he's on his way out.

  • mudwall jackson on October 19, 2011 1:52 PM:

    My question (again): How did someone as apparently simple minded as Cain do all the things he did and get to where he is today?

    americans have in insatiable appetite for bad pizza

  • zandru on October 19, 2011 1:56 PM:

    emjayay asks "How did someone as apparently simple minded as Cain do all the things he did and get to where he is today?"

    Good question! And I suspect that it says a lot more about the state of American business management than it does about Mr. Cain personally.

    Just from reading/watching the business news, the most touted, dynamic CEOs sound like con men. Philosophically, they argue like sociopaths. And they have a great ability to communicate to whatever audience they're put in front of, typically by talking as far down as necessary. Put them in front of your Party-faithful Repubs, and the CEO-candidates sound like they're simple-minded.

    To a large extent, that's just part of the con.

  • slappy magoo on October 19, 2011 1:57 PM:

    They might not have been in that audience, but I'm going to guess quite a few Republicans have lost their jobs the past few years, and I'm not sure "it's your own damn fault" is going to resonate much with them. If they vote in the primaries, I don't think it will be for Cain. And if, by some fluke, Cain becomes the nominee...actually, whoever is the nominee, I look forward to the debates with relish. it will be fun to watch Obama tear any of them a reality-based asshole. It may even be one of those awkward times where even the insta-polling on Fox News can't color what people are seeing with their lying eyes. No, after each debate, it'll probably take 3-5 business days for the Republicans to shape a narrative as to how their nominee actually won the debate.

  • Texas Aggie on October 19, 2011 1:58 PM:

    I've had a bit of experience with the types that would cheer things like this crowd. Texas is full of them, and TAMU seems to attract them like flies to roadkill, but at the same time, I have to say that they are normal people. It's hard to believe, I know, but most, not all, of the right wingers here in TX aren't as bad as they appear. There are people like Delay and Cornyn who are irredeemable and bound for an eternity in the hottest ring of Hell (I read that a couple new rings are under construction just to hold all the far right wingers), but most of them will just spend a very long time in Purgatory.

  • JJM on October 19, 2011 1:59 PM:

    You nailed it, Steve. He's getting play for being zany and a scold. But logical? reasonable? Hah!

    The blame is clear, still, the the public, who lays it at the feet of Bush and his policies, and it's even beginning to dawn on people that the fault goes farther back to the Reagan years.

    I don't think for a moment that the Democrats have failed to 'message'--how many of them got to go on the Sunday talk shows, for example? How many were given column inches in op eds? Seriously if you don't see how the msm tried to continue with their GOP favorites and favoritism and kept on highlighting their pet conservative 'intellectuals' you aren't seeing straight.

  • Gummo on October 19, 2011 2:00 PM:

    Was it Salon, Wash. Monthly or another online magazine that traced Cain's connections to the Koch Brothers? He's literally been a paid thrall of theirs for years and years.

    So whatever you hear out of Cain's mouth is a core belief of the Koch Brothers. He represents both their view and their "plan" for America. Think Gilded Age 'noblesse' without any 'oblige' whatsoever.

  • Arizona7 on October 19, 2011 2:05 PM:

    This portion of Cain statement is going unchallenged...
    "Wall Street didn't spend a trillion dollars that didn't do any good."
    Cain is alluding to Recovery Act. Which DID "do good".!!..
    Firstly, you never hear that 1/3rd of that Recovery Act was in form of Tax Relief.... which Republicans have always loved! Secondly, nearly every single Republican Congressperson & R-Governor has lined up at ribbon-cutting-ceremonies to celebrate a new construction which was made possible by that funding from Recovery Act... plus hundreds of teachers, firefighters, etc. who were able tto stay employed 2009 - 2010.
    Thirdly, it's impossible to prove a negative, but WITHOUT Recovery Act, we certainly would have had a depression...not a bad recession.

  • stormskies on October 19, 2011 2:07 PM:

    a sentiment that drew hearty cheers from the Republican audience — and he wants Americans to blame the White House.


    In a country in which 20% 'believe' that the Sun still revolves around the Earth, a population in which 50% 'believe' that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that humans co-mingled with the Dinosaurs, a country in which 30% can not even find the USA on a world map, a country in which the population can identify more of the Three Stooges than who is serving as a U.S.Supreme Court Justice, a population in which more people vote for American Idol than for the Presidency of the USA, a population in which 30% are morbidly obese, and another 40% are simply obese, and so on what else can we really expect ? Much of the population is stupid at best, and being cretins at worst.

    This is the same population that voted the Repiglicans back into power only 18 months after they had created a state of almost total economic collapse for our country, and the world itself.

    It is truly the United Stupid of America.

  • stormskies on October 19, 2011 2:10 PM:

    and then we have this........

    Pat Buchanan: America is Disintegrating Because White America is an Endangered Species

    And the stupid White American population cheers on ....

  • Arizona7 on October 19, 2011 2:13 PM:

    Good post Gummo....
    "... whatever you hear out of Cain's mouth is a core belief of Koch Brothers. He represents both their view and their "plan" for America. Think Gilded Age 'noblesse' without any 'oblige' whatsoever."
    Always "Follow the Money...!!!

  • SYSPROG on October 19, 2011 2:19 PM:

    OK two things...first off, the clapping. This kinda crap happens in the evangelical churches. The pastors tell them they don't need no stinkin' insurance to fix your teeth...YOU can do it with God's help. Everyone 'praises Jesus' but there is no follow thru...it's the classic 'you can do it all yourself'...except they can't and THEN blame someone for THAT (never God, tho or the pastor for lying to them...) Secondly, it is classic GOP to say 'YOU made us do it! YOU made lax regulations and we HAD to take advantage of you. It's YOUR fault...always the government...and then they become lobbyists to ensure that lax regulations are put in place for them to take advantage OF...what's that called? Catch 22?

  • tcinaz on October 19, 2011 2:24 PM:

    By Cain's own logic we should start blaming Herman Cain for all that's wrong in the economy. The time frame fits fairly nicely into his indictment of President Obama.

  • June on October 19, 2011 2:56 PM:

    @Arizona7 - excellent points.

  • TCinLA on October 19, 2011 3:03 PM:

    Herman Cain's made his way in Republican World by being the kind of black man white racists can deal with. He's nothing more than a dancing, singing Step'n Fetchit, only for real, not as a "front," the kind who would have worked as "bloodhound" for a scummy slave catcher/back alley assassin like Jim Bowie and called him "Massa" and loved him.

  • bdop4 on October 19, 2011 3:03 PM:

    Republicans better be careful of what they wish for.

    The 99% may take a break from blaming Wall Street and start taking direct action, like general strikes and boycotts of products/services of known corporate violators.

    It's starting to happen with BofA and should expand to every Koch subsidiary.

  • Monala on October 19, 2011 3:05 PM:

    They might not have been in that audience, but I'm going to guess quite a few Republicans have lost their jobs the past few years, and I'm not sure "it's your own damn fault" is going to resonate much with them.

    I wish I could say I agree with you, but far too many Republicans exempt themselves from the victim-blaming of the day. They hear, "it's your own fault" (you're unemployed, lost your home, whatever), and think, "It's not my fault, I didn't do anything to deserve this, so they're not talking about me. But those other people? It's definitely their fault!"

  • jarrod on October 19, 2011 3:40 PM:

    The financial collapse came because of America's glutony. Yes, rich people want to get richer but so do poor people and average people. The same people complaining are the people that signed the paper for the big house they couldn't afford because they were promised they could refinance later. Have some self respect, look at what you did wrong and tell yourself you will never do it again. Didn't anybody's parents ever teach them, "control what you can and the only thing you can is yourself and your actions."? This is self responsibility 101.

    Sorry for the spelling, I am at my job that I have becasue i went for it and I earned it. Try it sometime.

  • Reggie on October 19, 2011 7:15 PM:

    The economy is improving???
    BWAAAAAAA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA!!! My god, the audacity to utter such a blatant falsehood.
    You know where the economy is getting better? In Iceland.
    You know why?
    Because they arrested the banksters who screwed them and threw out the corrupt government who were in bed with them.
    I encourage all compatriots to unite under this model.
    It worked the first time, didn't it?

  • Anonymous on October 19, 2011 8:20 PM:

    Cain made his bones doing exactly what Mitt Romney did - make money by firing people.

    from wikipedia:

    Cain arrived [at Godfathers Pizza] on April 1, 1986, and ...Aiming to cut costs, Cain, over a 14-month period, reduced the company from 911 stores to 420. As a result of his efforts, Godfather's Pizza became profitable[citation needed]. In a leveraged buyout in 1988, Cain, Executive Vice-President and COO Ronald B. Gartlan and a group of investors, bought Godfather's from Pillsbury.

    He basically worked there for two years, and increased profits by closing stores and firing people, then he sold it.

  • Derek on October 19, 2011 9:37 PM:

    Reggie: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but since the collapse in 2008, the numbers have undeniably been improving (data to back that up: http://www.gallup.com/poll/127469/gallup-tracking-shows-signs-economic-improvement.aspx)

    No one thinks it is improving fast enough, but when you get both legs chopped off, the first step is to grow some big scabs.

    As for the blaming the victims issue, this is simply another example (in a string of many) of a blatant dissonance in the conservative narrative/world view. This is a symptom of blindly holding to dogma rather than actually "thinking" about "ideas", a concept all to foreign to the average right-winger it seems.

    The other recent example is this "47% don't pay taxes" nonsense (which we all know is simply not true, they're exempt from income tax ... not the same thing).

    The Libertarians want 0 tax liability yet seek to chastise those who have less tax liability than they, the dissonance being that they support lower taxes in principle, but not in practice.

  • Reggie on October 20, 2011 12:05 PM:

    Ohhhhh, GALLUP says the economy is getting better? Ohhhhh, well, if a secret poll taken behind closed doors by corporate entities who PROFIT from bankster maneuvers says everything is fine, then it must be so, right?
    C'mon, man...
    Libertarians don't want less tax liability for a percentage of folks, they want NO liability for ALL folks by REMOVING the income tax, which is unconstitutional.
    I'm not telling you what to do, Derek; you do what you want, but I CAN suggest you refrain from getting your news on the economy from the criminals who are manipulating it.