The Occupy Wall Street movement, and its host of copycat imitators around the country have garnered much attention recently. They have been largely lauded by the mainstream media, who have explained that the occupiers are idealistic youth guided by altruism and concern for the downtrodden. These are the same media outlets that tell us that the planet is now burning up, and that the Tea Party activists are all closet Klansmen. Small wonder that no one listens to the media anymore. Many conservatives describe the occupiers as aimless slackers who protest without knowing what they are protesting against, and why they are protesting in the first place. Certainly, the protestors/occupiers are inarticulate and the mindless gibberish they spout when questioned about their “goals” is often painful to hear. Beyond all of their sloganeering, platitudes, and childish chanting there does exist, however, a common liberal denominator. The OWS crowd is waging war with life as it is lived by normal Americans.
As I write from St. Louis, I can see the local occupiers sitting around and killing time. Many of the cars parked along the downtown street adjoining the occupied park have been in the exact same spaces for the last three weeks. It seems that our local police force has decided that it is not necessary to write parking tickets in these cases. Our local rag newspaper has suggested that the police realize that the occupiers are on their side, since they protest the reduction in public sector pensions. This is highly unlikely, although the authorities may have reached a Modus Vivendi with the protestors, in the sense that if the occupiers don’t disrupt the nearby World Series, the cops won’t issue parking citations.
The occupiers/protestors themselves seem to be something of a mixed bag. Some of them are the prototypical stoned, white, twenty-somethings who prattle on about the need for free college tuition. Many lament their crushing student loan obligations. It may be possible that some of these folks actually learned some basic economic ideas in college. If they are truly in dire financial straits due to student loans they might be better off taking whatever jobs they can find to start paying down those loans. Protesting usually doesn’t pay very well and in the meantime the interest continues to accrue on the student loans.
Some of the occupiers in St. Louis appear to be rented protestors drawn from the local transient population, many of who live in the general area. Larry Rice, a prominent St. Louis social service activist, has proven himself adept at mobilizing the homeless for politically oriented publicity, and this type of situation is tailor made for the good Reverend Rice’s organizational talents. In the summer of 2009 Mr. Rice caused a stir when he claimed that St. Louis politicians were trying to drive the homeless out of the city in advance of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He has set many of “his” people up in downtown parks before, and he may be at it again.
In addition to the unemployed ex-students, and the homeless, the protestors seem to include a fair number of upper-middle class, white suburbanites who hang around and empathize with the occupiers, although it is an open question whether they actually camp out overnight. These white liberals perfectly exemplify the “Bourgeois- Bohemian” type, skewered so memorably by David Brooks early in the last decade. There is something patently absurd about wealthy liberals claiming that they are “part of the 99%”, meaning that they are not in the top 1 percent of earners. They may not be in the top 1 percent of earners, but they are much closer to the top 1% than they are to the bottom 10 percent.
So, the occupiers/protestors are undoubtedly a hybrid crop. They are poor, yet they are middle class, and some are very high middle class. Some are illiterate, a number are barely literate college graduates, yet others are highly educated professionals and professors. What is the common denominator that unites this disparate motley crew? The answer is, quite simply, their common antipathy toward the general culture of the United States of America.
The OWS crowd reflects the heterodoxy that exists at the heart of modern liberal thought. Lest we forget, liberals have engaged in this sort of behavior before. The American Left, circa 1925, insisted that the First World War had been a conspiracy masterminded by J.P. Morgan and other Wall Street-City of London types who hoped to make more money off of the fighting. The same conspiracy theorists denounced FDR as a Wall Street puppet in the late ‘30s. Daniel Ellsberg and the New York Times editors lectured the country, in the early 1970s that Viet Nam was a Faustian bargain involving the military-industrial complex, and, more recently we have been told that we are fighting in Afghanistan to steal that region’s resources and make more money for the international financial cabal. The fact that Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth, has no resources to steal does not throw liberal protestors off message. They merely move on to the next target, chanting the same refrain.
Few of the political class know what to make of the OWS movement. Certainly most conservatives dismiss the protestors as simple malcontents, or spoiled brats. The GOP Presidential candidates score debating points by ritualistically flaying the occupiers. The Democrats, the de facto party of the American Left, cannot decide where to stand on the OWS movement. Surely, liberals will reflexively support anti-capitalist movements and rhetoric wherever they can find them, but the OWS causes many respectable liberals more than a little unease.
The protestors celebrate the Marxist roster of saints, including Lenin, Mao, and the once again popular Che Guevara. They glorify homegrown radicals like Saul Alinsky and murderers like Troy Davis. The occupiers/protestors condemn FOX News, GOP figures like Governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie, and the Boston and New York City Police Departments. Finally, the occupiers cap off their demonstrations with denunciations of the “Zionist Jews” who run the big banks, and, supposedly, the Federal Reserve System. The occupiers/protestors cannot express themselves in anything other than the crude profanities they shout with tiresome regularity. These ex-students most definitely didn’t study English during their college years. (There are over 400,000 words in the English language. It is truly amazing that one four-letter word beginning with the letter “F” has become the noun, verb, adjective and adverb of choice for so many college graduates.) Most of the Democratic Party leaders seem leery about embracing these people as a natural Democratic constituency.
And yet the modern left wing, given a 21st century political expression in the Democratic Party, consists of many sub-groups who refuse to conform to, or even subscribe to the social standards prevalent in our modern, middle class society. The modern liberal mind still sympathizes with criminals, accepts sexual deviancy, and promotes illicit drug use, abortion, open borders, and many other causes, which chagrin normal Americans. Adding insult to injury, spokespeople for these various sub-groups find a ready welcome in the Democratic Party. Herein lies the Democrats’ dilemma: If they embrace the OWS movement they undermine any progress they have made in identifying themselves as a party of sensible and moderate reformers. If, however, they shun the OWS movement they will antagonize their own base, which is increasingly centered in the lunatic fringe. Any Democrat reading this column will cringe at the previous sentence, but a casual glance at the television screen during a Democratic National Convention will confirm the truth of the statement.
News flashes of the last few days report that the protests are turning violent. This was bound to happen, just as the peace rallies of the late 1960s and early 1970s turned violent, and the nuclear freeze rallies of the early ‘80s often resulted in physical confrontations, as well. The OWS movement will probably fade away, as the glory of an October Indian summer gives way to the grim reality of a November chill. Still, the underlying issue of the protestors exhibiting disdain for the simple verities of American life will remain. We know where the Republican Party officials stand on this issue, and this movement. The only question as yet unanswered: Where are Barack, Joe, Nancy & Harry?