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.