Liberate Wall Street! Or, Thoughts re: #Occupy Shenanigans

The phenomenon that is “Occupy Wall Street” boggles the mind. The inchoate protests across the country that have no rhyme, reason or focus — other than to “just protest” — marks either the canary in social discontent’s coal mine, or Thermidor for the progressive Left. Regardless, watching people protest with no coherent message, animated only by their desire to benefit from taxpayer largesse, proves instructive.

Two points.

First, the Occupy movement, despite its small size and dazzling parade of clowns, represents the same type of discontent from the Left as the Tea Party marked for the Right. The Tea Party said: “I don’t want to pay for other people’s bailouts.” The Occupy movement says: “You paid for everyone else’s bailout, now where’s mine?”

It’s easy — too easy, for some conservative pundits — to let ridicule substitute for engagement in their approach to the Occupy phenomenon. The “where’s mine?” attitude on full flower in New York is easy to dismiss as naive or to caricature as the whinings of people too stupid to realize that a master’s degree in Medieval French Feminist Literature has relatively little market power. The dismissals are on-point, to be sure, but they miss the point at the same time. The protesters are demanding personal bailouts. It’s not caricature if it’s fact, and the fact is, student loan debt (most significantly) has fanned this particular flame of discontent, and those left with more debt than they can pay back really do feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods. Deriding it without acknowledging that people genuinely believe they deserve a personal bailout risks missing the forest for the face-pierced trees, and acting like personal bailouts are unreasonable despite our history with all sorts of public bailouts (not to mention welfare policy) constitutes willful blindness of a point that many consider to be valid in principle if not always in practice.

Second, the emergence of the Occupy movement and its sycophantic support among mainstream Democrats from Obama on down, unmasks in a creative new way the far Left agenda.  The general public so far seems less than amused. Conservatives and even some moderates snicker at some of the demands that have leaked from the “General Assembly” in New York — including immediate debt forgiveness for everyone, everywhere — but in truth, they are doing everyone a form of service. They are showing the country where the real Left pole lies. Elected Democrats shy away from this pole even though they’re beholden to it, much as elected Republicans have their own love-hate relationship with the far Right. Yet the challenge from the Left is that the old divisions (centrist, liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, anarchist) are eroding just as the internal divisions eroded within the Right in the last generation. People point to today’s monolithic Republican Party with much less internal ideological diversity as being a bad thing, yet this outcome is the end result of a process beginning with Watergate and continuing through the GWB years — and it’s only now beginning in earnest within the Left. Just as moderate Republicans are an endangered species, so also are the moderate Democrats: Just look at how the Blue Dogs were wiped off the map in 2010.

This means that in the coming years, the folks to the left side of the center almost surely will undergo the wrenching sea-change in ideology that will pull Democrats further to the fringe and impose a more rigid political and ideological template on rank-and-file politicians. The Republicans moved further Right in the 1990s and 2000s; the Democrats will move further Left in the 2010s and 2020s.

A NoLabelist third-party conglomeration of moderates is unlikely to prevail; the system revolves around a two-party duopoly, and in any case, not many beyond the ranks of self-appointed public intellectuals feel the call to rally to the cause of moderation. Instead, the independents will trend Right or tune out altogether.

It’s not hard to envision this moment — the Occupy movement, the weakness of the Obama administration, the ongoing failures of Keynesian stimulus, “leading from behind,” the backlash against Obamacare — as the point where another generational change begins. A change where the aspirations of the progressives decisively lose favor with the broad Middle America, and Democrats seem poised to devolve into decades of bitter internecine wars of ideology. Whatever the outcome for the Democrats, the progressive movement looks like its on the verge of collapse, at least as a serious contender for mindshare among educated citizens.

The progressives want to Occupy Wall Street. Fine. Yet it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the net result is that we’re now witnessing the first wave of the liberation of Wall Street from the powers of regulation and redistribution that are only now shedding the pretext of moderation and allowing their full ideology to flower.

America is a center-right nation. Always has been. When the progressives could cloak their ambitions under the veneer of moderation, Democrats have been successful. Just look at Bill Clinton. It takes a real crisis of public confidence mixed with effective blame assignment toward the Right to elect a true left-wing president — FDR, LBJ, BHO. Under ordinary circumstances (think McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, William Jennings Bryan, or even TR’s Bull Mooses) the further to the left they drift, the less likely the odds they’ll be elected.

Market economies work. That so many graduates with useless degrees are unemployed sort of proves the point. As long as the Right presents a solid pro-market strategy that leaves reasonable room for helping out the less fortunate, conservatives will win election after election. A pro-growth agenda that holds people responsible for the choices they make while providing a safety net to help those whose choices were constrained by circumstance will lift more boats than a soak-the-rich, give-to-the-poor Robin Hood fantasy that seems to animate the Left lately.

And as far as the freak shows in Zucotti Park — laugh, if you must. But beneath the unwashed hippie facade lies a discontent that could fizzle. Or explode. Conservatives would be well-advised to keep eyes wide open while they chuckle at the spectacle, lest they find themselves being tomorrow’s lion fodder.

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2 comments

  1. You say that “Market economies work.”
    That would be great, if it were what we had in America. Instead of a market economy, where risk results in either failure or reward, we have a rigged game.
    In a real market economy, Bank of America and Citi and Wells Fargo would not exist right now; their risky behavior would have caused them to fail, and the people who made those risky bets would either be in jail or living in cardboard boxes. So, we don’t have a market economy.
    Instead, we have a system where those banks, which crashed the economy, were given more than $1 trillion dollars in basically free money (God, Jason, I can’t believe you don’t know this) to weather the storm of their own creation. They call it “recapitalization.”
    Now, we have in this country 10% unemployment, 15% poverty, crumbling roads and bridges and sewer lines. And where do our nation’s tax dollars go? Why do we fire up the money printing press ? To bail out businessmen who can’t run a business. And when you point this out, you get called a “hippy” and a “socialist.”
    At the core of OWS is one inarguable fact: When the shit went down in 2008, our nation’s elected representatives, the people chosen by American people in American homes with American jobs and American kids, looked out for the banks first. They didn’t say “Holy shit, millions of people are losing their homes and jobs!” They said, “How can we make sure the CEOs of our nation’s banks keep on buying yachts?” When the shit continued to go down over the next three years, those same elected representatives actually argued over whether we should extend unemployment benefits to unemployed people during a time of 10% unemployment. They cut things like WIC and other aid to people who got thrown out of their homes and jobs. Meanwhile, Wall Street and the banks posted record profits, sat on piles of cash, demanded tax breaks, and generally went on as though they hadn’t just ruined the American economy.
    Then, recently, OWS protests start happening to get the attention of their elected officials, and to show that there is a large part of the voting population that doesn’t like playing in this rigged game. They use their Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly to voice their grievances. They bring attention to the fact that our elected representatives are looking out for corporations who do not have the interests of America or Americans in mind.
    So, yeah, call the OWS people a “freak show.” But they’re right. You’re just not listening.

  2. And I’ll even challenge your assertion that “America is a center-right nation.” Excuse me, that’s not your assertion. It’s Fox News’ assertion. Check out this comprehensive debunking of that myth by Media Matters for America:

    http://mediamatters.org/research/201110260024
    Key facts from that article:
    Major National Polls Show That Americans Believe We Need To Raise Taxes.

    Three Out of Four Voters Support Tax Increases On Oil And Gas Companies, Private Jet Owners, And The Wealthy.

    Time: Americans Agree With Occupy Wall Street Movement

    CNN: Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Cuts To Social Security, Medicare, And Medicaid.

    Pew: 87 Percent Of Americans Say Social Security Has Been Good For Our Country.

    Sixty-One Percent Of Americans Agree That Government Regulations Keep Businesses Ethical.

    CNN: Three Out Of Four Americans Support A Woman’s Right To Choose In “Any Or Some Circumstances.”

    See, Jason, just because Fox News says something, that doesn’t make it true.

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