Herman Cain Aims Another Rant at Wall Street Protesters

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Tea partiers didn't like the financial bailouts, either, and the former CEO has harmed his problem-solving brand by sticking up for big banks

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On Hugh Hewitt's radio show Wednesday, former CEO Herman Cain offered more criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, saying that it almost makes him angry to see their street rallies. "Blaming Wall Street and blaming big banks, and blaming those that have succeeded in America under our free market system is never going to make you happy, and it's never going to make you rich," he said. "If you really want to do something to create jobs in this country, why don't you go and picket the White House. That's why where we have failed economic policies. That's where we have policies that have kept unemployment up over 9 percent. You're picketing the wrong source. It's not those that have produced in this country. It's the failed policies of this administration."

One reason this critique of Occupy Wall Street may not resonate with voters it that it's factually inaccurate. President Obama's policies, love 'em or hate 'em, didn't create the financial crisis, and the firms of Wall Street, love 'em or hate 'em, don't just encompass "those that have succeeded in America under our free market system." As any number of tea partiers can attest, a lot of those Wall Street firms exist today only because Presidents Bush and Obama used taxpayer money to bail them out when decisions they made in the free market resulted in trillions of dollars in losses. Strange that Cain, a tea party favorite, totally ignores that aspect of recent history, along with the revolving door between Wall Street and the executive branch, the fact that various mortgage backed securities invented during the housing boom didn't in fact produce anything in this country other than a bubble, and that some firms were guilty of criminal activity.

As a fan of the free market who shares the right's notion that it is sometimes unfairly pilloried by the left, I insist that it is an idiotic rhetorical mistake for my fellow fans of capitalism to hold up Wall Street, as it currently exists, as an example of what we want at the center of the American economy. If it must become a symbol of anything, crony capitalism is a more likely fit, but the real mistake that Cain and so many others make is to see Wall Street, the protestors there, and resentment of financial elites as a matter to be grappled with in general terms, through the lens of ideology. There are honest and dishonest people on Wall Street, sensible and absurd people in the Occupy Wall Street, accurate and inaccurate critiques of American finance.

A successful leader would harness anger at financial elites on the right and left to fix what's wrong and preserve what isn't. An unsuccessful leader would treat it all as another symbolic tussle in the ongoing struggle between left and right. Cain's whole appeal is his potential to approach controversy as a commonsense problem solver more interested in solutions than ideology.

Why is he reacting to Occupy Wall Street like an ideologue?

"My emotions are almost anger, quite frankly, because I think back to how my mom and my dad, they never played the victim card," he said. "That's what the people on Wall Street are doing. They're trying to say that we are the victims. No, you're not the victim. They're playing the victim card."

Again, there are doubtless some folks in lower Manhattan doing just that, and as surely there are many who aren't conceiving of themselves as victims at all. That's the thing about amorphous protest movements with no discernible statement of purpose common to those taking part: They've got different, complicated motivations. In pretending otherwise, it is Cain who is letting his emotions get the best of him, rather than seeing the protests as an opportunity to persuade and lead.

It doesn't require a mind or a campaign staff all that nimble for a GOP candidate to say, "A lot of my supporters in the tea party were furious when President Obama used taxpayer money to bail out these banks, so I'd like to reach out to the Occupy Wall Street protestors: If any of you are willing to lend me your support, or even an opportunity to win it, I'll pledge that under a Herman Cain presidency taxpayer money would never be redistributed to bankers -- that I'll put the people ahead of those who've contributed to my campaign, unlike President Obama, who took campaign contributions from employees of many of the firms who'd benefit from his policies."

It's a no-brainer.

The fact that Cain has instead gone on record defending Wall Street is folly, and in the unlikely event that he wins the GOP primary, the campaign commercial Obama will run against him writes itself.


Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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