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Herman Cain: ‘Let them eat cake’

Herman Cain, to the Wall Street protesters:

“Don’t blame Wall Street,” Cain said. “Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

Contemptible! Does this man know any unemployed people? Here’s something from an “Open Letter” to Wall Street, re: the protesters on its doorstep, that Cain ought to consider:

They look all kinds of silly in their outfits, and some of their statements don’t make a whole lot of sense to people like you, but they have put down roots, and you better get used to them. I’m sure the whole phenomenon is quite perplexing to you – really, why don’t they just go home? Don’t these people have jobs?

I hate to be the Irony Police, but that’s pretty much the whole point. They can’t, and they don’t. Have homes and jobs, I mean. There was a guy out there a few days ago holding a sign in front of a mortgage-lending institution that read “These People Took My Parent’s Home.” There are all sorts of people walking around Wall Street yelling their lungs out at you because, well, they really would like the opportunity to find gainful employment, as well as a future, but that nifty shell game you and yours pulled off (on our dime) wound up immolating the economy of the common man/woman, and so the common man/woman has decided – in lieu of anything else better to do – to spend their you-created idle hours on your doorstep.

Let’s face it: the mess outside your office is your doing. You and your friends bought this democracy wholesale – ah, yes, the irony of freedom is found in the way you were able to corrupt so many legislators with your money, always legally, because the legislators you bought are the ones writing the laws covering political contributions, and thus the wheel of corruption turns and turns – and now you want this democracy to do your bidding after the bill for your excess and fathomless greed has come due.

I can’t buy into the idea that the People are entirely virtuous, and the Bankers have been wholly evil. My view is that what has happened to us economically is the result of a widespread corruption of the virtues necessary for self-government. But I am a firm believer in the Biblical principle that to whom much is given, much is expected. The surprising thing is not that Wall Street is now being protested against. The surprising thing is that it has taken so long. And the embarrassing thing to conservatives is that the Left got there first. At least it should be the embarrassing thing.

I say this not as someone who endorses the goals of this group of protesters. What are their goals, anyway? Do they even know? I give one-and-a-half cheers to the protesters for doing something. The fact that they drew this kind of response from Herman Cain is hugely telling. His is a pure example of the Republican Id. As a conservative, I cannot understand why so many ordinary conservatives don’t appear to have the slightest concern over the way Wall Street economic elites behaved, how the hugely irresponsible acts of those men have dramatically diminished the job prospects and stability of ordinary people, and how these wealthiest-of-the-wealthy have captured both political parties for their own interests. But it’s true. As I wrote the other day, Baylor University recently released social science research showing that among non-blacks, the less well educated and less well-off you are, the more likely you are to be religiously observant, believe that poverty is one’s own fault, and that God means for some to be rich and some to be poor. In other words, the same classes that make natural conservative populists have strong cultural reasons for denying that there are structural problems with our economic system that unjustly favor the interests of the very rich, at the expense of the great masses of ordinary Americans.

Will Wilkinson has a fascinating observation of why that is. Excerpt:

Now, one of the most interesting things about pre-fabricated political identities is that they come as package deals. There is no logical connection whatsoever between supporting a woman’s right to abort an unwanted fetus and supporting subsidies for alternative energy. The strong cultural correlation between these stances creates an illusion of ideological coherence. Since most of us aren’t political theorists, we tend not to see that the force determining the various planks in our favoured party’s platform is the drive to craft a winning coalition cobbled together from diverse and sometimes conflicting interest groups, not Truth. So, if changing material circumstance nudges us toward a clear preference for the safety-net party, we tend to find ourselves drawn into a larger, ready-made “liberal” cultural sensibility that leads us to see “the business coalition as greedy bastards” and to develop a sense that people whose work leads them to identify with the other party “are clueless about what really matters in life”.

I think the paradox, or the irony, is that the evolution of partisan coalitions can lead to bizarrely incoherent partisan worldviews. Easy money in a recession is the objectively pro-business position. However, the rising preeminence on the right of the idea that inflation, like taxation, is largely a mechanism of unjust big-government expropriation can, through mere association, make this viewpoint seem like the “pro-business” one, even if it isn’t. It’s this kind of drift in the composition and ideology of partisan coalitions that can make even debate over economic policy seem like just one more front in the culture war.

This is why conservative people who ought to have at least some sympathy for the Wall Street protesters likely see them as Herman Cain does: as layabouts who are demonstrating when they ought to be out there getting a job. And this is why liberal people who ought to be seriously questioning the relationship of the Democratic Party to Wall Street aren’t going to press Barack Obama as they ought: because culturally, he’s one of them. The culture war continues to be the defining conflict in American life.

Finally, I credit my TAC colleague Clark Stooksbury’s observation here:

And I should add that while Dreher wrote, “It is simply a fact that on the Right today, there is no constituency for breaking up concentrations of wealth and power, except government wealth and government power,” I assume that he meant to add the phrase, when Democrats are in power.

Herman Cain is, for now, the Tea Party candidate. I would bet my next paycheck that his “let them eat cake” remark will not hurt him with the Tea Party, but will probably even help him. The Tea Party is the only expression of conservative populism we have. These facts tell us a lot, all of it depressing.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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