Cain Is Not Alone: Blaming The Unemployed Is GOP Policy

October 20, 2011 11:36 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Herman Cain

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent says the 'iconic moment' in Tuesday's GOP presidential debate was the crowd's wild applause when Herman Cain doubled down on his statement that unemployed Americans should "blame yourself" for their misfortune. While the cheering continued the trend of disturbing outbursts by Republican debate audiences, it's important to remember that Cain's position is actually common among conservatives.

Oddly enough, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) — whose unwavering opposition to government assistance for sick Americans without health insurance prompted a similar reaction in a previous debate — was the one candidate on stage who challenged Cain's statement. But the silence of the others is just more evidence that blaming the unemployed for their condition has become a mainstream Republican position. Here's a sample of Republicans disparaging out-of-work Americans in the past several months:

Rep. Steve King: "Nation Of Slackers." Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) argued against unemployment benefits by suggesting that jobless Americans are lazy. "We can't have a nation of slackers," he said, adding, "We've gotta get this country back to work and get people out of the slacker rolls and onto the employed rolls."

Sen. Jim DeMint: "A Lot" Of Jobless Americans Don't Want To Work. In an interview on CNN, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) claimed that businesses cannot find new employees because "a lot" of unemployed Americans are "gaming the system" and don't want to work. "I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can't get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they're getting food stamps and they say 'call me when unemployment runs out,'" he said.

Rep. Black Farenthold: The Unemployed Are Like "Somebody With A Drug Problem." At a town hall meeting, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) compared people receiving unemployment benefits to alcoholics and drug addicts. "We've gotta, you know, nobody wants to starve anybody. Everybody wants to help folks out," he said. "But we've got a system where you can stay on unemployment for an awfully long time. And I think we need to create a system of decreasing benefits over time to encourage you to get a job. I think anybody who's had an alcoholic in their life or somebody with a drug problem, realizes that until things get bad enough there's no incentive to change."

Cain's language is particularly jarring, but a slew of Republicans have argued that unemployment benefits encourage people not to work, implying that unemployed Americans don't have jobs on purpose. Furthermore, last year Republicans refused to continue unemployment benefits unless Democrats agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — and even then some leading conservatives objected to providing help to the jobless.