Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is Occupy Wall Street a Liberal Tea Party? If It Is, Can It Be More?

First, I want to apologize for not having posted in quite some time. When the debt ceiling deal went through, I went through a period where just thinking about politics made me feel somewhat ill. I've gotten past that, though, and am happy to be back.

Getting past that, the two biggest pieces of news in the Republican presidential campaign over the past couple of weeks have been the rise of Herman Cain, which I think is a boring story of the moment, and Occupy Wall Street, which I find much more interesting. I think pretty much every Republican candidate for president has discussed Occupy Wall Street over the past week, including our good friend Rick Santorum (who was surprisingly one of the most understanding towards Occupy Wall Street, although he of course disagreed with their pro-government intervention viewpoint.)

I must say that I'm a bit torn by Occupy Wall Street, and find that most people who are covering the event, no matter how much they support it, are. In particular, the media on the left tend to be torn about whether this is a liberal Tea Party or not. When conservatives denounce Occupy Wall Street, liberals call them hypocrites because there isn't that much difference between what the Tea Party has done and what Occupy Wall Street is doing. However, when moderates and conservatives say Occupy Wall Street is like the Tea Party, a lot of us on the left try and say how Occupy Wall Street is more or different.

I see too many similarities between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to not see them as two sides of the same coin. This is not meant as a put down of Occupy Wall Street. Like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street has taken people who feel disaffected and giving them a voice. For the biggest dissimilarity between the two groups, the individuals at Occupy Wall Street actually are the people who have been most hurt by the economic downturn of 2008: college graduates who have entered the job market to find no jobs, laid off individuals who have found it impossible to find new jobs, people who have had their homes foreclosed upon because their homes lost half their value in the last five years, and union members. That is a significant difference, especially in the morality behind the message. But there is another similarity that is stronger to me: both groups have very broad, somewhat muddled messages.

The Tea Party is well known for making broad pronunciations of limited government and strict constitutional construction, without describing what that means or turning that into specific policy proposals aside from calling for no taxes or repealing the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, the only message that Occupy Wall Street has sent out about their goals was a very broad, nonspecific list that was essentially a rundown of far left goals. Indeed, Keith Olbermann, whom I typically enjoy, touted how nonspecific Occupy Wall Street's list was as a strength because it showed how irretrievably broken the American economy is.

And that's where Occupy Wall Street shares a major flaw with the Tea Party. It is actually pretty easy to get a bunch of people who are mad and feeling disenfranchised together to complain about what's wrong. It's a lot harder to come to a consensus about specific policies to take to improve matters. That takes hard work. If Occupy Wall Street wants to be taken more seriously, they need a specific set of policy initiatives they support. And those initiatives have to be realistic. Getting to those initiatives might be difficult. But it's necessary.

If I was active in Occupy Wall Street leadership, I'd suggest naming 5 specific pieces of legislation we wanted enacted at the federal level. Personally, my five would be: (1) return of federal income tax rates on the top two tax brackets to Clinton-era levels; (2) the abolition of the lower tax rate for capital gains taxes; (3) elimination of subsidies for oil production in its entirety and agricultural enterprises that have over a certain amount of revenue; (4) $1 trillion over the next ten years that goes directly to much needed infrastructure improvements; and (5) the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. If I was adding a sixth wish list item that would require a Constitutional Amendment, it would be support of a Constitutional Amendment that explicitly states that a corporation is not a person and, which would eliminated Citizens United.

I know a lot of people like Occupy Wall Street the way it is right now. There are a lot of things I like about it as well. But I think doing the hard work to come to consensus to make proposals for beneficial and realistic legislation will both make Occupy Wall Street more effective and relevant far into the future.

8 comments:

  1. Bringing dialogue between the two anti-establishment organizations can only help America.

    I came here from googling santorum just to see how your google bomb was doing lately. ha ha ha!

    wikipedia calls it neologism, and that obviously has it's place. One thing I don't enjoy in this two party world of labels and terms the mention of which send most people in America to their opposing corners is the name-calling that seems mostly to emanate from the "left" corner. I don't think it does any good, it's antagonistic.

    Refreshing to read something from that corner using the term tea party rather than tea bagger, even though I am sure there is also a lot of santorum in the tea parties.

    I am libertarian leaning and loathe to institute any new law but maybe it would be best to just outlaw any party affiliation by anyone. Belonging to a party seems to make one promote what's best for that party, instead of what's best for our country.

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  2. Like the commenter above me, I'm a libertarian. Just wanted to say this a good article, and thanks for the honest analysis without bashing one side or the other.

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  3. I think people should be focusing more on the issues rather than what political ideology the occupy wall st people align with. Whether they are or are not "like" the tea partiers is irrelevant.... Look at the issues they are trying to bring to light rather than focusing the discussion as a partisan issue.

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  4. Well, before you get legislation, you have to define the problem.

    And Republicans have been successful defining the problem as "the wealthiest 1% needs more money to CREATE JOBS". While the actual problem is the broad money gap between the wealthiest 1%, that has been getting RICHER, and the everyone else that is experiencing a RECESSION.

    So The protest is smart, it defines the problem in stark black and white terms. It wouldn't have happened without the protest. Corporate news is only too happy to tell us that Republicans think rich people need more money to create jobs, and Obama is only too happy to compromise with them.

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  5. I agree with you, the "occupy" movement really have to get their act together and stop acting like just being somewhere is going to change something. They should try and make a clear political program. The way I see it, its impossible to be a-political in this situation. Because anything you say or do is going to put you in a corner, whether you want it or not. So if they say "corporations are not a person" then that would mark them as "the left" .
    I think that there is a great difference between the Occupiers and the Tea Party, which is that for as much as the Occupiers have the better ideas for a constructive society, the tea party just have the better public profile, they have PR. If you want to change anything, you need the backing of a substantial amount of people, and not just your isolated group.

    Also to quote De Leon: "Whereas the libertarians of the right wish to abolish the state because it hinders the freedom of property (here: means of production), the libertarians of the left wish to abolish the state because it is a bastion of property."

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  6. I disagree that OWS needs to come up with a program or list of legislative items to enact. What OWS is about is showing how broken our system is. There is NO law that can pass through congress that will fix the economy or solve any of the core problems we suffer. The Democratic party is not part of the solution, it is literally 1/2 of the problem. We need systemic change. We need to educate ourselves and our fellow citizens, we need to generate a powerful motivation to solve our problems. We will be lucky if this takes a decade, no ten point plan will suffice. OWS will eventually generate a series of ideas, but more importantly, OWS will generate the power to enact them. These ideas are complete non-starters in the world of regular politics, so just generating the list is not important at all. OWS and similar groups will have lots of work to do. Their solutions will start being enacted via Constitutional Amendments supported by massive general strikes and perhaps some occasional support by a very few friendly politicians. The failures of our system are creating the same desperate opposition that ended the Soviet system, and just ended the Mubarak system (well, ending still, like us they still have lots of work to do). As the failures of the system become more and more obvious and and the pain it causes becomes more widespread, change will come.

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  7. I got direct here through the Google search for Santorum. I am a staunch Republican, but I am more liberal on social issues.

    First, I like the article and it is some of the same points some of my friends have had about the Tea Party. Both organizations became polarized after Evangelicals and Labor Unions came in and used it as an opportunity to push their organizations agenda. I went to several Tea Party rallies in Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati and Columbus early on in the movement. At those rallies the focus was on small government, lower taxes, social security reform, and a push to keep supporting the troops. I dropped out of going to rallies after I started seeing some of the signs that radical church groups and some hate groups started bringing. Now these were fringe people but they took the Tea Party away from the core idea of small government and low taxes. The labor unions are doing the same to the OWS movement. I went down to Occupy Cincinnati over Thanksgiving weekend and talked to a few people whom I knew from high school. All them had three things in common:
    1) They had a liberal arts degree (ie Philosophy, sociology, pyschology, Poli-Sci)
    2) They had yet to make a strong attempt at looking for work. One had never even applied for a full time job.
    3) None of them could explain in great detail how supply side economics works

    Now I am not an economist nor will I pretend to be, but really what this country is caught in is a failure of economic policy by the both parties. Clinton shouldn't have allowed Fannie and Freddie to support the resale of subprime mortgages. Bush shouldn't have let Clinton's policies to continue and he shouldn't have bailed anyone out. Obama over reacted with Dodd-Frank Act, the stimulus 2 and lack of general leadership. Obamacare, the stimulus 1 and 2 coupled with deficit spending dating back to the Carter administration. I completely agree with the posts I have that both parties are to blame equally. I think the Tea Party and OWS could spawn a new 2 party system which could further divide our country. Compromise is the great equalizer. Both parties are too worried about marking one in the win column and not about solving the problems of our country.

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  8. Unclear demands? Bullshit. The demand founding the Occupy Wall Street movement is: "Ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. ...[C]leaning up corruption in Washington is something all Americans, right and left, yearn for and can stand behind."*

    Goal obfuscated by the MSM? Yes.

    *Archived @ http://j.mp/ttATRq

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