Herman Cain thought he could win—and for a while, America did too. It seems now that this is not so. Scandals, both sexual and intellectual, have eaten away at his candidacy, and it seems clear that his star is sinking back into the depths of the Republican primary firmament. Yet there is an incident from Cain’s campaign, when it seemed he could win, that did not receive enough coverage, an incident that revealed a troubling tendency in contemporary American attitudes toward the unemployed.
I’m referring, of course, to Cain’s “if you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself” remark. Certainly the incident received some coverage. But it didn’t reach the heart of the matter.
With that statement, Cain was telling America’s unemployed that he was leaving them behind. With that single statement, Cain made it clear that finding jobs for those without them would not be a priority if he were elected. If, after all, unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, Cain is not there to help.
That’s nine percent of the workforce Cain gave up, right then and there—almost 14 million potential votes that Cain threw away, in a single sentence. Far more, in fact, if you count the chronically underemployed and those no longer looking for work.
Now, perhaps the unemployed are overwhelmingly Democrats; this is not utterly implausible (It would, however, thoroughly undermine any Republican claim to speak for the real troubles of real Americans). But it’s not just a question of those 14 million Americans. It’s a question of their friends and families; their dependents and those supporting them. The unemployed and their close relations are a tragically huge constituency in today’s America, and Cain gave them up. Yet he—and many others—still thought he could win. That means that Herman Cain believed that employed Americans, fortunate Americans, would vote overwhelmingly for someone who declared his intention to leave their unemployed fellows behind.
Herman Cain is very lucky to be seeking the presidency in this secular age. The fact that a candidate with the name of the first murderer could be facing off against a president whose name means “blessed” is unlikely to sway any notable segment of the electorate. But Cain’s name is surprisingly indicative. The Biblical Cain, shortly after his murder, is confronted by God about his missing brother. Cain replies sarcastically: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, of course, is yes. Doubly so, as Cain both has an existing obligation to care for his brother, and is responsible for his death.
The parallels here are a God-given gift to the lazy editorialist. Herman Cain is not innocent or uninvolved in the current economic crisis. Herman Cain rose to prominence in the business world through his tenure at Godfather’s Pizza, where he presided over thousands of layoffs. Thousands of layoffs, which he said were necessary for the business to survive—and yet today he has the gall to speak to the nation’s unemployed and laid off and tell them that it’s their own fault. Herman Cain entered the political world by lobbying for a business association. He is intimately familiar with the ugly alliance between business and government; he knows exactly how taxpayer dollars end up, for example, being spent propping up flagging pizza companies—and yet today he declares that if you’re not rich, you should blame yourself.
Herman Cain doesn’t care. He made his fortune and gained his fame through the same system that has increased income inequality for the past three decades, and he doesn’t care about the poor. He rose to power on a wave of layoffs, and he doesn’t care about the unemployed.
Yet Herman Cain still thought he could win. He believes that a marked majority of those Americans who are employed will turn their backs on their unemployed compatriots. Herman Cain believes he can win entirely on the votes of those who refuse to be their brothers’ keepers. I think that a win for Herman Cain would be a bad thing for the U.S. But I think that even more, it would reveal something embarrassing about who we are, and what we stand for as a nation. And, sadly, I see no reason to believe that any of his fellow party members are even better. They may not have spoken so bluntly, but the ideology of the Republican Party speaks clearly enough. “If you don’t have a job, blame yourself—even if we fired you.”
Times are tough. If, instead of pulling together as a nation, we vote for the “tough luck” party, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Louis R. Evans ’13, a Social Studies concentrator, lives in Currier House.