"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."
OK, Herman Cain never told the nation's 14 million unemployed or underemployed Americans to drop dead.
Neither, for that matter, did President Ford tell New York City to drop dead — as a famous headline in the New York Daily News proclaimed during Ford's brief White House tenure.
But Ford might as well have told New York to drop dead, and the same applies to Cain and like–minded Republicans in 2011.
Ford was a Republican, and he was taking a stand against a federal bailout of a city that was struggling. I suppose modern Republicans — openly applauding, as they have recently, the refusal of medical care to someone because that person is not insured — would hail Ford as a visionary.
I have a feeling Cain would have liked the stand against bailouts — except, of course, for those cases in which he would be in favor of them. With today's Republicans — hell, with politicians in general — it's hard to say.
It all really depends, as an acquaintance of mine used to say, on whose ox is being gored.
Cain, of course, was defending New York — or, at least, Wall Street — against the angry protests from citizens who are understandably irked that the financiers have profited from their selfish practices that caused so much pain for many millions of Americans who, as a result of others' creative accounting practices, lost their jobs.
Whose fault was that, Mr. Cain?
Now, I'll be the first to admit that there are always a couple of bad apples in any given barrel. But, as a song from my youth reminded listeners in those days, "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch." Prejudice is prejudice, whether it is based on race or religion or age or gender — or financial status.
The Great Recession has deprived America of the efforts of many creative, talented people, and it is simply wrong for anyone who knows nothing about individual circumstances to make a blanket assertion that the unemployed are to blame for not having a job.
The vast majority of the unemployed are not to blame for their plight, and it is to Cain's everlasting shame that he does blame them.
What's next? Will he blame the sick and the handicapped for their conditions? Will he blame the elderly for coming down with maladies that typically afflict older people?
America was once a country that offered a helping hand to those who were struggling, but, somehow, America has gone from being a place that sought to judge people on the content of their characters to a place that judges people on the content of their bank accounts. Well, most politicians do, regardless of party.
All the politicians, from the Oval Office on down, want money, lots of it. If they speak of encouraging job creation, it is mostly lip service, intended to gain votes but said in a kind of nudge, nudge, wink, wink sort of way to the money boys. We won't really hold you accountable, it implies.
No, they can't risk offending the money boys — or, for that matter those who have grown comfortable in their rapidly dwindling middle–class lifestyles and for whom the thought of being unemployed is like indigestion or the sight of a homeless person panhandling at an intersection — temporarily unpleasant, but, once gone from one's thoughts, it is forgotten, replaced by musings about this weekend's cookout or the impending release of the latest electronic gadget — and those who can afford it (and even some who cannot) will still contribute money to candidates who promise them they can keep what little they still have.
Money is power. Money is clout. Money buys advertising time. The unemployed can't afford to contribute much to political campaigns — their money is tied up in staying alive. But the financiers, the bankers, the Wall Streeters do have money, lots of it, and politicians in both parties shamelessly pursue it.
It's not your fault, Cain and others like him soothingly tell Wall Street. It's those greedy unemployed people. If they had any gumption, they'd go out and get a job or start their own business and make a fortune like Steve Jobs.
I share the rage that many people feel toward Wall Street, but I try to be rational about it. As I have observed so many times, things are rarely black and white. Most of the time, they are distinguished by subtle shades of gray.
I rather liked what Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic: "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."
It is counter–productive to obsess about blame as we have a tendency to do in our culture these days. After all, Democrats promised to close Guantanamo and bring the troops home. I have Democrat friends who insist that these steps, along with taxing the rich, will put the economy back on track.
And I have Republican friends who blame excessive regulation and Obamacare for restricting job creation.
And neither side will concede that the other might have a good point or two.
We also have a tendency to rush to judgment. When Bush was president, critics were dismissed as unpatriotic. During Obama's presidency, critics have been dismissed as racist. Neither side cared about legitimate concerns that were raised. That's no way to build a consensus.
It's been easier for both sides to adopt a take–no–prisoners–all–or–nothing approach to governing — to rely on shaming the other side.
Well, the shame is on the politicians. And a good place to start is with Herman Cain.