You Want a Job, Right? 

Herman Cain and the criminalization of poverty

Pizza baron Herman Cain leads in the polls, yet nobody believes he can win the Republican nomination. The fact that the No. 1 candidate doesn't stand a chance is an improbable truism emblematic of our broken political system.

The reason Cain isn't allowed to be president is money. Romney is spectacularly wealthy. Cain is merely rich. As of October, Romney had raised $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 Bialek's credibility. Cain's main attack focused on her finances.

"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.

The narrative is simple: This bitch is poor. I'm rich. She's lying about me to pay her bills.

"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 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.

More than 1 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 IRS filed liens against more than 1 million Americans in 2010, a 60 percent increase from 2009. Are they untrustworthy?

To be poor, Cain and the GOP argue, is for your word to be worthless.

Bialek may or may not be lying. Either way, her veracity is unrelated to her income. "It's not about me," she told an interviewer. "I'm not the one running for president."

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