I hear many names bandied about in Zuccotti Park, and not just at the fringes. Among the most popular are Karl Marx, Hugo Chávez, Michael Moore, Paul Ehrlich, and Dennis Kucinich. But today I heard a less predictable one spoken more widely: Ron Paul.
There are three key reasons for this, I think. The first is a good old marriage of convenience, the same sort of unholy alliance as arose in the early 20th century when Baptists and bootleggers came together to argue for the prohibition of alcohol in America. You see, Ron Paul is angry, too, and he wants to “restore” America to its old ways. The majority of Paul’s policy positions may be radically different, but much of his rhetoric is in line with Occupy Wall Street’s, particularly his anti-Hamiltonian conviction that the banks have callously denatured the United States. For many, this alone is enough to make him an ally.
The protesters I spoke to today were predominantly appalled when I told them of Paul’s attitude towards Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the federal government in general, not to mention of his deregulatory zeal and staunch pro-life commitment. But, ultimately, this didn’t matter as much as the fact that he wants “change,” too. Revolution first, details later — we’ll just leave the specifics to Working Group 48.
The second reason is more specific: the ever-popular “End the Fed” stance, whose advocates are neatly divided into two groups: those who know their subject and the Austrian school inside out, and those who quite honestly have no idea what the Federal Reserve is, but wish to end it anyway. The latter, which vastly outnumbers the former, takes the Groucho Marx position, straight from the “whatever it is, I’m against it” school of politics. To paraphrase a famous follower of another, less amusing, Marx, you can’t make an omelet without breaking Feds.
Guilty or not, the Federal Reserve is the perfect poster child of public-private collusion and tallies neatly with the fiction that corporations have stolen our democracy. It is a natural enemy for OWS to take, and Ron Paul is its most public advocate. (The irony that Zuccotti Park occupies this public-private no man’s land also, and that the protesters’ ongoing commune there is largely the product of that fact, is clearly lost on the movement.)
Last but not least, there is the popular opposition to the wars. “I think a pretty large part of it is that he is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” one man told me when I asked him why he admired the congressman from Texas. “Troops out of Iraq!” said another, with zeal and without irony. “We have spent four trillion dollars killing people in the last ten years,” a man with an “End the Fed” T-shirt shouted. “Think about what we could have done with that money here in America.” When I suggested that, if it were up to Ron Paul, that money would never have found its way into the government coffers, let alone into public-works projects or federal entitlement spending, my new friend cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “the important thing is that Ron Paul is starting a conversation about some of these issues.”
This is typically a line trotted out to cover ignorance, or reluctance to state a policy preference. But in this case, perhaps his fan was correct. Ron Paul has described Occupy Wall Street as a “legitimate effort,” and suggested that “if they [are] demonstrating peacefully and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed — I would say, good!” It would be unfair to take that quote out of context. Preceding it was a warning that he didn’t really know what it was that Occupy Wall Street wanted, or who filled its ranks.
In reality, Ron Paul and the average anti-capitalist utopian “occupier” have about as much in common as did Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark, but those motivated by righteous indignation must stick together. And down in Zuccotti Park, it looks like they are doing just that.