Blaming the victim

In several recent Republican debates, the audiences have drawn nearly as much attention as the candidates, cheering executions, shouting in support of allowing the uninsured die, and booing an Army soldier serving in Iraq.

Since that last one, the crowds have been better behaved — perhaps mindful of the perils of helping their Democratic rivals — but Greg Sargent flags a gem from last night, in which there was another round of inappropriate applause.

Two weeks ago, Herman Cain told economic victims, “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!” When CNN’s Anderson Cooper brought up the quote, the crowd applauded. When Cain stood by it, they applauded louder.

Greg Sargent called it an “iconic” moment. I agree.

But let’s also note Cain’s explanation during the event. On the one hand, Cain insists the unemployed and struggling families are to blame for their own plight. On the other hand, Cain also said, “I still stand by my statement, and here’s why. They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they’re directing their anger at the wrong place. Wall Street didn’t put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t do any good. Wall Street isn’t going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration.”

There’s obviously a breakdown in Cain’s logic here. He wants victims of the crash to blame themselves for being solely responsible for their own misfortunate — a sentiment that drew hearty cheers from the Republican audience — and he wants Americans to blame the White House. Cain should probably pick one.

The larger problem, though, is that Cain is wrong on both counts. On the first part of Cain’s argument, which absolves Wall Street of its responsibilities for the crisis, the thinking here is practically pathological — does he not know the role financial industry corruption and mismanagement played in the economic collapse?

On the second part of Cain’s argument, which blames President Obama, one can only wonder if perhaps Cain has suffered some kind of head trauma that interferes with his cognitive abilities. The recession began in 2007, before Obama had even won the Iowa caucuses. The economy fell off a cliff in the fall of 2008, before Obama had won the election. Since then, White House policies have helped improve economic conditions (the economy is now growing and adding jobs, as opposed to shrinking and hemorrhaging jobs).

That the audience saw fit to cheer all of this nonsense speaks volumes about the alternate GOP reality.