In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain characterized the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration.” Flagrantly ignoring fundamental rules of decorum, he told those who are victimized by the economic mishaps of many U.S. corporations and institutions—particularly banks and the housing market—that they should “blame” themselves if they do not have a job and are not rich! He goes on to say that it is not a person’s fault if one succeeds, but it is a person’s fault if one fails. Such feckless observations have landed Cain as a momentary frontrunner in recent polls. What are the reasons for the Cain phenomenon?
Herman Cain is the flower child of the American Dream, the child of a janitor and a domestic worker. He graduated from the esteemed Morehouse College, where he earned a degree in mathematics; subsequently, he attended Purdue University, where he attained a master’s degree in computer science. Working as a systems analyst for the Department of the Navy, he eventually entered the corporate arena, first with Coca-Cola and then with Burger King. His success led to his leadership of Godfather’s Pizza, which was reportedly fledgling at the time, 1986. Continued business victories gained Cain the helm of the National Restaurant Association—a post that afforded him the opportunity to confront Pres. Bill Clinton at a town hall meeting focusing on health care. Cain unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. A fiscal conservative who holds a common Republican disaffection towards pro-choice and gay-rights positions, he is a quasi-supporter of affirmative action.
Cain’s popularity stems from his personal success story, bold simplicity, political inexperience in Washington, and maverick ways. His emphasis on a business flat tax, an individual flat tax, and a national sales tax—each at 9%–became a media sensation as the 9-9-9 Plan. However, Cain seems impervious to the plights of the impoverished as well as the working and middle classes and offers no relief for them. He fails to realize that an unregulated and unfettered capitalist system exacerbates the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The urgency of job creation is not looked at realistically, and the projected consequences of his plan are wholly inadequate for what is needed to elevate the bootless unemployed and underemployed. For example, Cain’s second phase of his plan supposedly removes personal income taxes (it does not) and offers no explanation where the revenue from income taxes that help keep the political and economic system going will come. Rather, he touts his support for small government and avoids acknowledging that his 9% estimate for a national sales tax is simply not high enough—by a long shot! Moreover, he attacks consumers of moderate incomes with a retail sales tax as well as compels businesses, which also will be taxed during their product generation, to charge the customer additionally in order to offset the tax. To use his phrase, it simply “doesn’t work”!
Cain’s popularity is very similar to the post-election celebrity of Sarah Palin. Their visceral attachment to American capitalism, their noxious neglect of the poor, oppressed, and their imperviousness towards suffering souls combined with their naïve populist rhetoric and simplistic misperception of systemic issues rally many individuals on the right, despite the fact that Cain and Palin’s positions are against their needs and interests. Both capitalize on their faux pas and puerility that capture media attention and catapult them further as they reveal their xenophobia and thoughtlessness. Cain has gotten folks to pay attention to him, but at what cost?
In the last televised debate amongst the Republican presidential contenders, Cain supported the erection of an electrified fence. His attitude seemed both to make mockery of the idea of a barrier and to disrespect the humanity of immigrants. Rather than seek to address the issue critically and objectively, he chimed in with the other ignoramuses who did not search for any viable solutions for the border woes. This is typical of the fashion in which political debate takes place, and Cain, for someone who is not in the District of Columbia loop, mimics it very well.
In the final analysis, Cain clearly has a skewed view of success. There are countless people who work every day, take care of their families, have a modicum of leisure, and care for neighbors. One does not have to be rich or use one’s disposable income hedonistically in order to be successful. When discussions of poverty arise, many people demonstrate a “blame-the-victim” mentality and do not have a firm grasp of the causes of poverty in the United States. Cain is no exception. One does not have to be an anti-capitalist, as I happen to be, to recognize the ridiculous belief in letting the market have its way. To do so is not only ludicrous, but also compels us to abdicate our responsibilities as thinking human beings. I will not do that, regardless of what the “Hermanator” or his Tea Party supporters have to say!