Is it me, or does the news these days seem like so much chaotic noise? It’s all blah-blah-blah from reporters and journalists whose partisan leanings are oh-so-evident reporting on people and events that bear the mark of that partisanship in one way or another. The blue pill or the red pill, Democrats or Republicans, Brady or Manning; same damn thing. It’s difficult in this environment to a) figure out what’s really going on and b) find allies and worthy issues. If I’ve reverse engineered this process as correctly as I think I have, that’s just by design.
I mean, let’s take a look at this Occupy Wall Street thing. Factions have swapped sides again, as if politics were some sort of baseball game where teams switch off batting. The Wall Street protesters sound like the Tea Partiers of yesteryear while Tea Partiers are reacting to OWS similarly to the way many of the protesters themselves reacted to the Tea Party (which is to say, denigration into annihilation). Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats have switched places; Democrats now sing the praises of the OWS while Republicans use hostile rhetoric to try to discredit them.
The thing about the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Protests, however, is that the constituencies of neither movement would be happy if they were able to achieve their goals. While liberals and progressives made much hay over the Tea Party signs that said “Hands off my Medicare!” they see no irony in their signs, which read “Tax the Rich!” If so-called “entitlements” and limiting them was a subtext of the Tea Party rhetoric (and it was), then what the government is currently doing with taxes and the left’s disapproval of that activity is certainly a subtext of these ongoing protests. Opposition to wars, Guantanamo Bay, secret wire-tapping, attacks on civil liberties, illegal military activity, etc. are generally par for the course with Wall Street protesters.
Here’s the thing, though: if Tea Partiers are successful in eliminating as much spending as they say they want, Medicare as we know it is going away. If Occupy Wall Street is successful in its goal, the government will have more money to perpetrate wars, fund Guantanamo Bay, illegally wire-tap, etc. And it will use the money for those purposes. It will not translate to income equality, just as Tea Party demands will not translate to a less corrupt government. The demands do nothing to change the underlying processes of corruption that both movements are hostile towards.
The flip side of that disconnection is the confluence of sentiment behind both movements. They are similar, if not the same. The electorate is highly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and both movements have capitalized on the growing sense of anxiety ordinary Americans are feeling about the improbability of upward social mobility and their own political isolation as the political elite have been more and more concerned with the problems of Wall Street than they are of Main Street.
So what does an ordinary American do with such sentiments and movements? How does one get the accurate information that is needed to bring good judgment to bear? In an environment where both sides demonize the other and try to paint purity pictures of their own adherents, where in order to join, to go all in, as they say, requires a belief that one set of American citizens if wholly bad and another set of American citizens is wholly good, what is a political moderate supposed to do? The argument is over before it begins because the premises are in opposition to the most basic rules of critical thinking and modern political identity.
Ironically enough, Joe Biden may have put it best when he said:
“The core is the American people do not think the system is fair or on the level….. That is the core of what you’re seeing on Wall Street. And that’s what started, by the way — there’s a lot in common with the Tea Party. The Tea Party started why? TARP. They thought it was unfair — we were bailing out the big guy.”
He’s not technically correct about TARP. TARP was just the beginning of conservative discontent–bail outs primed the pump, so to speak. The Tea Parties themselves were organized around the health care law Democrats pushed through in 2009, the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They were angry that the federal government was empowering itself to force the little guy to buy a private product, and the perceived lie that health care mandates did not amount to a new tax. As with the bail outs, conservatives and a rather diverse set of supporters were angry that once again the political class had come to the rescue of the financial class at the expense of the taxpayers.
The point is, the TP movement was about discontent over the corruption of the system. That’s also what Occupy Wall Street says it’s about. The only solution that has any hope of manifesting any real change in the system is for supporters of these two movements to unite around the issue of political and governmental reform. It’s also the least likely scenario to actually happen. That’s because our political discourse, which was wrought with demands that the rhetoric be toned down earlier this year after Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot, has devolved finally into a perfect re-hashing of the common familial argument from the 1960s. On one side you have young people screaming “Racist!” to older people who are screaming back, “Hippie!” One would think this would diminish any credibility Andrew Sullivan has left after the ironically titled Goodbye to All That. He couldn’t have been more wrong about it all:
Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us…. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.
At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.
I don’t know how we get past this argument, and therein lies the problem. Occupy Wall Street in its current formation will never unite 99% of the population, or anything close to it. Already there’s a 53% response (referring to 53% of Americans who they say pay taxes) to the 99% tagline, and both sides seem to have fair points of view that sometimes overlap, but often reveal the startling divide between conservative and progressive ideology in America today. There’s a lot of distance between “Pay off my student loans!” and “I didn’t take welfare even though I qualified.” Of course, if we follow it to through the natural progression, soon we’ll have the 9% who don’t give a damn, the 20% who are too young to vote, and the 22% who’d rather tune in to Dancing with the Stars. The math is simply impossible. So much for that, too, Somerby.
Each faction is convinced that it is right and the other side is wrong, and no one seems ready to talk about how neither side can be all right or wrong, that what’s happening is exactly what’s supposed to happen in a democracy, namely that the diverse people of our nation have voices and use them. We’re so busy demonizing the other side, we can’t even take a break and say, “Hey, good on ya for speaking up, for keeping the wheels of democracy greased.” Unless and until we can get to that point, real change won’t happen. We’ll keep spinning in the same old boomer ditch we’ve been spinning in for the last forty years until it’s no longer a winning strategy for the elite to keep us tied up like this. This is the state of our disunion.
This editorial has been cross-posted from Peacocks & Lilies.