This caused a dust up on Twitter last night. But it deserves more attention today. This moment from last night’s debate, in which the audience cheered the idea that the unemployed are solely to blame for not having a job, strikes me as one of the most iconic moments we’ve seen at the debates yet:
Anderson Cooper says: “Herman Cain, I’ve got to ask you — two weeks ago, you said, `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.’ That was two weeks ago. Do you still say that?” At this point applause starts, and after Cain stands by the claim, the applause crescendos and hoots of approval can be heard.
Lovely. I get that this applause might be an affirmation of the idea of self reliance as much as anything else, but the fact remains that the crowd is applauding the idea that the unemployed are solely to blame for their plight. The basic suggestion here is that the private sector is entirely unimpeachable and must be shielded from blame at all costs — the only morally correct position is to place all the blame for unemployment on the jobless themselves.
So let’s head over to this Brookings Institution analysis of the unemployment problem. It notes that “competition for jobs among the unemployed remains greater than any time before the financial crisis, stretching back to the Great Depression.” Even more to the point, it adds: “there have been more than three jobseekers per opening in every single month since September 2008.”
As Alex Seiz-Wald noted recently: “Blaming unemployment on the unemployed is a common trend among conservative politicians.” If this video is in any way representative of the GOP base’s sentiments, we can see why.
Obama and Dems have seized on other reactions from audience members — the “let him die” moment, the booing of the gay soldier — to build a larger case about the clash of visions and values the 2012 election campaign will embody. Obama has taken to claiming that “we’re all in this together,” and has framed his call for tax hikes on the rich as an argument over national unity and the social contract, while deriding GOP opposition to shared sacrifice as a Darwinian “you’re on your own” worldview.
If Obama hopes to contrast his call for a larger, inclusive, charitable vision with the fundamentally exclusionary and meanspirited one he accuses the GOP of harboring, this video seems like a pretty good data point.