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Herman Cain and the Criminalization of Poverty

"You Want a Job, Right?"

Pizza baron Herman Cain leads in the polls. Yet nobody believes he can win the Republican nomination. The fact that the #1 candidate doesn't stand a chance is an improbable truism emblematic of our broken-down political system.

Partly it's that he's black. Republicans are racists.

Partly it's that the nomination was promised to Mitt Romney. He's been waiting. It's Willard's turn.

It's not the accusations of sexual harassment. Republicans are sexists. For the GOP touching the hired help (or wannabe hired help) is the droit du CEO.

The reason Cain isn't allowed to be president is money. Romney is spectacularly wealthy. Cain is merely rich. As of October Romney had used his white-male Wall Street connections to raise $14 million. Cain had a paltry $700,000.

After reports surfaced that Cain had groped Susan Bialek, a woman who asked him for help landing a job, Cain received $250,000 in contributions in a single day. Attempted rape--she says he tried to force her head into his special place--pays.

Unsurprisingly, the Cain campaign went to work smearing the credibility of his accusers. One of his proxies, right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh, took to pronouncing Bialek's surname "buy-a-lick."

Cain's main attack, however, is focusing on the women's finances. "Who Is Sharon Bialek?" asked a Cain campaign email to reporters.

It was a perfect illustration of what's wrong with the media.

"The fact is that Ms. Bialek has had a long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances--which may help explain why she has come forward 14 years after an alleged incident with Mr. Cain, powered by celebrity attorney and long term Democrat donor Gloria Allred," said the Cain camp.

Well, sure, Bialek's past-due bills "might" explain why Cain waited so long to speak out. For that matter, she "might" be a delusional space alien who prefers Domino's. Heck, she "might" even have vomited at the thought of her groper becoming president.

Who knows anything, really?

Not Cain--he's never heard of neoconservatism. But I digress.

Back to Cain's smear campaign. The narrative is simple: this bitch is poor. I'm rich. She's lying about me to pay her bills.

The fact that the media plays along with such reasoning shows how elites wage class war against the 99 percent of us who work for a living.

"Ms. Bialek was also sued in 1999 over a paternity matter," spat the Cain campaign. "In personal finances, PACER (Federal Court) records show that Ms. Bialek has filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois bankruptcy court in 1991 and 2001…Ms. Bialek has worked for nine employers over the past 17 years."

The New York Times added some context.

"Saddled with $17,200 in legal fees related to a paternity fight with the father of her infant son, Ms. Bialek filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. Her income had dropped to $19,000 in 2000 from $38,000 the year before, court records show, and she had only a few thousand dollars in assets. Court records show that Ms. Bialek has continued to experience money troubles in recent years. The Internal Revenue Service in 2009 filed a lien against her for $5,176 in unpaid taxes, and an Illinois lending company won a judgment last year for $3,539."

Bialek and her attorney anticipated attacks that she was planning to profit from her account, announcing that she would not sell her story. That should have done the trick, but no. Cain's smear tactics appear to be working so far.

No one but Bialek and Cain know what happened that night back in 1997. Regardless of the truth, the implications of Cain's approach should be troubling. To follow Cain's argument to its logical conclusion, anyone who has ever had money problems can't be trusted to tell the truth.

Poor people are liars.

Rich people are not.

Which no doubt comes as news to former clients of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

Bear in mind, there is no evidence that Bialek or the other women committed perjury, or fraud, or embezzlement. Their characters are not at issue. Bialek's sin, if you agree with Cain, is that she's broke.

These days, who isn't?

Over a million Americans a year file bankruptcy. One in nine Americans have seriously considered it since the economy died in 2008. According to Cain, they are all--to a man, or is it just women?--lying sacks.

The I.R.S. filed liens against over a million Americans in 2010, a 60 percent increase from the year before. Are they inherently untrustworthy?

I've gone to court. I've had judgments against me. I don't think I was more honest before those things happened.

The Tories of Great Britain widened the gap between rich and poor, then cast the poor into debtors' prisons. Like their ideological forebears, Cain and his fellow Republicans want to criminalize poverty. Thanks to their pro-corporate policies, which have dominated the U.S. for 40 years, the economy is dead. The ranks of the poor, the dispossessed, the bankrupt and the tax non-payers like Susan Bialek have grown and continue to expand.

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