What Occupy Wall Street Is Really About

The Repub­li­can response to the Occupy Wall Street move­ment is one of shal­low­ness and mis­un­der­stand­ing. It’s hyp­o­crit­i­cal in nature. Instead of seiz­ing on the anger that is clearly dri­ving OWS as well as the Tea Party, con­ser­v­a­tives are malign­ing the motives of indi­vid­u­als and miss­ing the entire point which is that peo­ple are sick and tired of hav­ing to play on an unlevel field. The mid­dle class of Amer­ica is begin­ning to see the effects of cor­rup­tion and crony cap­i­tal­ism on their abil­ity to live a nor­mal life. The level of anger is ris­ing in this coun­try as it seems more and more like one’s abil­ity to get ahead is cut down by the politi­cians and crony cap­i­tal­ists who line their pock­ets with money.

It is easy to mock the indi­vid­u­als of any move­ment as there are always the fringe who latch on to a move­ment in hopes of cham­pi­oning their favorite pet causes. The Tea Party has no short­age of big­ots and racists, ele­ments that see the idea of less gov­ern­ment imple­mented as a rever­sal of Civil Rights or maybe a huge fence around the Amer­i­can bor­der. OWS has peo­ple who want to for­give all debt or make sure every­one gets a free col­lege edu­ca­tion. All of these peo­ple are equally loony and should be ignored as it relates to the par­tic­u­lar move­ment. Instead, move­ment ene­mies on both sides of the aisle seize on these indi­vid­u­als as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the move­ment as a whole. Lib­er­als paint the Tea Party as racist move­ment. Con­ser­v­a­tives paint OWS as typ­i­cal lib­eral big gov­ern­ment hand­ing out free lunches. Both miss the point that these move­ments are not about indi­vid­ual desires but about a grow­ing anger in the coun­try as peo­ple begin to real­ize Amer­ica has become an oli­garchy con­trolled by the finan­cial elite and the politi­cians they have bought. It is this feel­ing of hav­ing the chips stacked against them that dri­ves the move­ments and both par­ties fail to see the endgame in a large angry pop­u­la­tion within their midst.

The Amer­i­can peo­ple are begin­ning to under­stand how badly they have been betrayed over the past 10–15 years. Income inequal­ity is grow­ing con­tin­u­ally and mobil­ity between classes is being reduced. The strong inter­play between the finan­cial elite and their abil­ity to use their money and influ­ence to con­trol finan­cial reform leg­is­la­tion is ham­per­ing the abil­ity of this coun­try to rebound from a lost decade of eco­nomic fail­ure. The fact that not a sin­gle bank­ing offi­cial has been pros­e­cuted for what is widely seen as wide­spread fraud espe­cially in the mort­gage indus­try is telling. Until the dark­ness that is at the heart of the finan­cial col­lapse of 2008 is brought out to light and inves­ti­gated, noth­ing can be done that will improve the sys­tem. We are only kick­ing the can far­ther down the road until it ends up in the mid­dle of a high­way where we will be crushed by some ran­dom event.

When Repub­li­cans look at OWS and see a tat­tooed, lazy youth move­ment too blase to effect change, they miss the under­ly­ing frus­tra­tion in a large swath of the mid­dle class with their inabil­ity to affect change in their own lives. They have been told all along to get a col­lege edu­ca­tion, work hard, save for old age, and every­thing will be fine. But none of that is true if you can’t get a job and you can’t save any money because inter­est rates are effec­tively zero. All the while, they watch the rich finan­cial elites who seem to have been com­pletely unharmed in the last 3 years and who con­tinue to make exor­bi­tant amounts of money. This anger isn’t class envy. It’s not class war­fare. It’s the feel­ing that the rules are con­stantly being bro­ken by cer­tain seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion with no reper­cus­sions. Amer­i­cans have long wor­shipped suc­cess and wealth. But they hate cheaters and as Taibbi points out in the link above, that cheat­ing is what is dri­ving OWS, the feel­ing that peo­ple are cheat­ing at the high­est lev­els and not only not being pun­ished but that they are in fact being largely rewarded.

Repub­li­cans and con­ser­v­a­tives should be able to seize on that anger. Con­ser­v­a­tives claim to want noth­ing more than to go about their lives with­out inter­fer­ence. But when the finan­cial econ­omy and the polit­i­cal world are con­trolled by peo­ple who seem to have no under­stand­ing of how to drive the sys­tem, all our lives are neg­a­tively affected. When banks can bor­row bil­lions from the gov­ern­ment at zero per­cent inter­est and loan it right back to the gov­ern­ment at three per­cent while the aver­age cit­i­zen tries to pay down a 25% credit card, anger will grow. When the Lloyd Blank­feins and Jamie Dimons of the world receive huge bonuses for tak­ing that gov­ern­ment money and loan­ing it back while the aver­age mid­dle class home­owner loses his house because of a robosigned mort­gage doc­u­ment, the anger will grow. Even­tu­ally, that anger will esca­late into some­thing most likely vio­lent and uncontrolled.

Of course, the real prob­lem is that both par­ties at the high­est lev­els are cor­rupted and con­trolled by the finan­cial elite. One’s abil­ity to get elected to pub­lic office in this coun­try has ceased to be about abil­ity or lead­er­ship. It is tied directly to how much money you can raise. That money largely comes from the finan­cial elite who have a strong vested inter­est in the sta­tus quo. With­out sub­stan­tial polit­i­cal and cam­paign finance reform, the oli­garchy will con­tinue to con­trol the power. Anger in this coun­try will con­tinue to grow. We had the oppor­tu­nity in 2008 to reshape how the finan­cial world inter­acts with every­thing else and instead, we gave them a free pass for almost sin­gle­hand­edly destroy­ing the world’s econ­omy. It will be even harder now to cre­ate that change but putting it off by ignor­ing the anger that is dri­ving OWS and the Tea Party will only cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion more explo­sive and dif­fi­cult to con­trol later on.

10 Comments

  • Beau­ti­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of my thoughts and sen­ti­ments. Nicely said.

  • Wow, Brett, that was very nicely done. I have no real con­cept of money or its uses on a grand scale, but I think you made some very good points. That para­graph where you say Amer­i­cans have long wor­shiped suc­cess and wealth was very well-put.

  • So how do we fix it? I totally dis­agree with the idea of social­ism and redis­tri­b­u­tion, but i also don’t think that money should be able to buy politi­cians. Can we fix it?

  • Spend­ing caps, over all term lim­its, and ban lobbyists?

  • Being sick and tired is what moti­vated the Tea Party orig­i­nally. It still does to a huge agree. It got mar­gin­al­ized at a national level by another power elite, the media, and a fairly large num­ber of polit­i­cal elites. They still went out and did the grass-roots thing, and won some elec­tions. They will win more in 2012, bank on it.

    How­ever, those same two power elites, media & polit­i­cal, have cho­sen OWS as the horse they want to back. If they allow them­selves to be co-opted, and I believe the major­ity will, then…what???

    I don’t dis­agree with your the­sis, maybe quib­ble about “wor­ship” a lit­tle, but to no great effect.

    I truly believe the Tea Party path is the only path, short of civil war. Work VERY hard locally, win elec­tions locally, work on national. And the country-club Repub­li­can elite can either get with the game, or find them­selves on the outside.

    Of course, there’s always civil war…honestly, I believe a very low-level civil war is what Barack and the Democ­rats want, because I think they think they can con­trol it, and that they will profit from it.

  • Very well done! I think this does a great job of sum­ming up the true feel­ings of the major­ity of the pro­test­ers as well as the major­ity of the peo­ple in the United States!

  • Thanks for putting into words what so many of us are think­ing. Great job!

  • Scotch Drinker wrote:

    @maggi, I think term lim­its would be a fan­tas­tic first start, some­thing that the peo­ple of this coun­try could actu­ally imple­ment by demand­ing it from the Con­gress. I don’t think the Found­ing Fathers ever expected “Con­gress­man” to be a full time occu­pa­tion and con­stant new blood would have to help with the corruption.

    @scott I worry that low-level civil war is where we’re headed, at least as a worst case sce­nario. The anger in the coun­try is only increas­ing and whether it’s focused on the gov­ern­ment or the cor­po­ra­tions, it’s very dan­ger­ous. The anger can be either be han­dled well by address­ing the con­cerns or it can be han­dled poorly by hop­ing it goes away. Either way, it’s going to get addressed and OWS/Tea Party may be the last chance at address­ing it peacefully.

  • this is one of the smartest pieces i’ve read on the sub­ject. thanks for writ­ing it.

  • Scotch Drinker wrote:

    @nic, Thanks! Glad you’re still drop­ping by.

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