The Occupy Wall Street protests — amorphous and unsanitary — have expanded sufficiently to force national figures to take sides. The left is in a delirium, finding in an incoherent and unfocused movement seeds of “effectiveness” and even “genius.” Meanwhile, Eric Cantor criticizes the mob and Paul Ryan praises the concept of protests, in general.

But from where I sit, one man has emerged — much as he has recently emerged as a presidential contender — as the most effective spokesman against purposeless and petty Days of Rage (well, one man other than David Harsanyi, whose manifesto of OWS demands still remains the best piece on the protests I’ve yet read).

Here’s Herman Cain, saying what needs to be said:

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain amplified his criticism Sunday of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement, calling the protesters “jealous’ Americans who “play the victim card” and want to “take somebody else’s” Cadillac.

Cain’s remarks, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” came amidst an escalating war of words between Republicans and Democrats over the merits of the movement, which has spread from New York to other cities across the nation, including Washington and Los Angeles. …

But Cain, surging in popularity among many conservatives, seems to have had among the most virulent responses to the protests.

On CBS, Cain suggested that the rallies had been organized by labor unions to serve as a “distraction so that many people won’t focus on the failed policies of the Obama administration.”

Yep, that’s Occupy Wall Street: Jealous kids who’ve fallen prey to the victimitis virus, unwitting (or perhaps intentional) distractions from Obama’s failed economy, a window into what’s to come if the GOP wins in 2012.

Others have said as much before. But Cain’s comments resonate so keenly with me precisely because he — perhaps more than most — has assiduously inoculated himself against the victimized mindset.

“One of the most important lessons Dad taught us was not to feel like victims. He never felt like a victim; he never talked like a victim,” writes Mr. Cain of his youth in the Jim Crow South. “And both of our parents”—his mother worked as a maid and his father was a chauffeur—”taught us not to think that the government owed us something. They didn’t teach us to be mad at this country.” Is it any wonder that Mr. Cain wound up as a conservative Republican?

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley argues persuasively that Cain’s proactive, positive approach to his own life and ambitions extends a post-racial promise unlike any Obama could have offered:

Mr. Cain’s supporters also cite his inspirational life story, his accomplishments as a business executive, his successful battle against cancer. As noteworthy is what they do not harp on, which is his race. Obviously people notice that Mr. Cain is black, but it doesn’t appear to be a factor in his soaring popularity. This is progress.

A significant part of Mr. Obama’s appeal in 2008 was the color of his skin. Supporters were willing to overlook his lack of executive experience and any number of other significant shortcomings in order to elect the first black president. The 2012 contest will tell us whether the country is done patting itself on the back. Let’s hope so, because the Obama presidency to date is nothing if not a harsh lesson in the perils of identity politics. …

Black individuals who don’t see themselves primarily as victims are a threat to the political left, which helps explain why MSNBC commentators have derided Mr. Cain as a token and why Jon Stewart has mocked him in tones that evoke Amos ‘n’ Andy or Stepin Fetchit. To secure political victories, Democrats need blacks to vote for them in unison. Independent thinking cannot be tolerated.

But the promise Cain extends is actually nothing more nor less than the promise America — and life itself — has always made: A promise that personal responsibility — for the most part — pays off. Cain says he is first and foremost the CEO of himself. Riley calls that a little “hokey.” I call it an echo of some of the pithiest wisdom quintessential Americans have passed on from one generation to another, from William Ernest Henley’s “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Let us, then, be up and doing / With a heart for any fate / Still achieving, still pursuing / Learn to labor and to wait.”

The concept of delayed gratification is not a new one, but it is one we have to perennially fight to make attractive, both to ourselves and to society at large — and in both small and large matters. Cain’s wide smile and refreshing sense of humor — his impressive business success coupled with his evident happiness as a person — make hard work seem appealing and worthwhile. Conversely, the stories of his childhood remind us that a lack of material success need not impede the personal happiness that proceeds from sound character and strong family ties.

What I find so hard to understand is why the Occupy Wall Street protesters don’t actually want what Cain has. They’re jealous, yes, but jealous for all the wrong things. What they want, if they only knew it, is Cain’s optimism and energy, his attitude and work ethic. None of us — Cain included — displays those traits unfailingly. But they’re still a surer bet than seeking government remedies for an ill-defined problem.