Playing the blame game
WASHINGTON — Herman Cain denies that he sexually harassed women over the years, but there’s no disputing the obscene thing his campaign did last week to a man.
After Karen Kraushaar identified herself as one of those who accused the Republican presidential candidate of workplace misconduct, Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “we’ve come to find out that her son works at Politico” -- the publication that first reported on Cain’s sexual harassment record.
“Have you confirmed that?” Hannity asked.
“We confirmed it that he does indeed work at Politico and that’s his mother, yes,” Block said.
In reality, Josh Kraushaar has not worked at Politico for 17 months — and he isn’t related to Karen Kraushaar.
As I watched the Cain campaign execute this bluff, I was reminded of George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 to follow the Clinton presidency with an era of “personal responsibility,” a time when people would no longer think that “if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else.”
The era of personal responsibility, if it ever began, has surely ended with the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. The candidates are blaming the media, the elites, the Democrats, the government and each other for their problems, but never themselves. In essence, the Republicans are now playing the sort of identity politics they deplore when the Democrats do it; they are pretending they are a persecuted minority, discriminated against because of race, religion and culture.
At last week’s debate among the Republican candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry essentially ended his presidential aspirations when he struggled for nearly a minute in a failed attempt to remember the third of three Cabinet departments he would dismantle. He promptly blamed the media, and the federal government. “Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies,” his campaign wrote in an email to supporters. The email asked supporters to ignore it “while the media froths over this.”
This is the same Rick Perry whose wife said, as her husband plunged in polls because of his weak debate performances, that the couple is “being brutalized by our opponents and our own party. So much of that is, I think, they look at him because of his faith.” Asked about that charge of anti-religious bigotry, Perry said: “I’ll stand by my wife.”
Newt Gingrich, in turn, sees benefit in blaming the media for his problems. At last week’s debate, he continued his practice of attacking the moderators, mocking the CNBC questioner and claiming the press “doesn’t report accurately” on the economy. He has also accused moderators at the Fox News debate of asking “gotcha” questions, and told a moderator from Politico that he’s “frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other.”
Among the others in this conservative field, blame has been liberally spread. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has blamed problems with his “Romneycare” health reforms on his successor, a Democrat. Before he quit the race, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, likewise, blamed his Democratic successor for budget problems he left the state. Pawlenty’s fellow Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann, has gone further afield, blaming Washington politicians for an earthquake and a hurricane. Just joking, her staff said.
But none has a blame game quite like Cain’s. When the allegations of sexual harassment first arose, he blamed the accusers for failing to get his “sense of humor.” Then he blamed a “witch hunt.” Then he claimed it was “the Perry campaign that stirred this up.” (The Perry campaign, in turn, blamed Romney.) Cain moved on to blame “the D.C. culture” for his troubles, before moving on to blame “the Democrat machine in America.” Naturally, he blamed the media, winning cheers at the debate for complaining about the press trying him “in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations.”
Cain even played the same race card he condemned Democrats for using, claiming he was victimized because he’s a black conservative. A group of Cain supporters alleged a “high-tech lynching,” and commentator Ann Coulter blamed Obama strategist David Axelrod for spreading the sexual harassment allegations.
As if Democrats don’t dream of having Cain as the GOP nominee? But logic plays a small role in this new era of blame. Wrote the falsely accused Josh Kraushaar last week: “I can say from personal experience that it takes a blatantly inaccurate personal smear for the Cain campaign to own up to its mistakes.”
Even then, you can’t be sure.