Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delegitimizing Protests

One positive from all the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) coverage is that it gives right wing hacks and left wing hacks the chance to completely trade talking points from the time of the hoopla over the Tea Party rallies. At this point we have seen:

1) Right wingers pointing out that in surveys taken among the demonstrators, OWSers by and large don't seem to know much about the economy or politics. It seems like just yesterday left wingers were pointing out surveys showing the same ignorance among Tea Partiers. The only thing this really proves though is that most people really don't know what the hell they're talking about most of the time.

2) Right wingers pointing out anti-Semitic OWS attendees in order to tar the whole movement (despite large numbers of Jews participating in the rallies themselves), while left wingers point out that a few nuts showing up at a rally shouldn't taint everyone else. Where did I hear something similar? Oh yes, some borderline racist (or blatantly racist) Tea Party attendees being touted by the left as emblematic of the whole, while the right points out that the Tea Party now seems to be enamored with Herman Cain.

3) Right wingers pointing out that the typcial OWSer is actually employed, and relatively privileged (educated, middle class) just as left wingers pointed out that Tea Partiers tended to be more well-off than most of the country.

4) Right wingers pointing out the hypocrisy of OWSers bleating about corporations while using iPhones, wearing designer clothes, and drinking Starbucks coffee. It wasn't that long ago that left wingers gleefully pointed out that Tea Partiers railed against government while rallying in public parks (like the Mall) and using the (publicly funded and run) Metro to get to their rallies.

Even better is the willingness of each side to argue that theirs is noble while the other side's demonstrations are just idiots/haters whose complaints are illegitimate and they don't have any good ideas.

But let's consider this fairly--aren't these two groups--Tea Partiers and OWSers--really more similar than anyone gives them credit for? After all:

1) They're all privileged compared to the average American (and certainly compared to the average human, when you toss in the Third World), but both groups are legitimately anxious about the direction of their futures. Tea Partiers are watching their retirement funds vanish, their house values drop, and the prospect of entitlements (Medicare and Social Security) run out of funding before long. OWSers are watching their job and salary prospects dwindle while their school loans are likely to be with them for decades and default could wreck their futures. This is a real prospect of loss, and it explains the anger.

2) The targets of their anger--government and big business that seem pretty good at granting favors to one another in ways that if not illegal are certainly slimy--are largely complicit in the mess we fell into years ago and are still in. (Yes, it's not as simple as "government and Wall Street screwed this all up" but they certainly deserve a good chunk of the blame)

3) There are certainly hate filled morons at both rallies, but I refuse to believe the majority at either rally condones such nonsense--if only because IT'S NOT HELPING.

4) At both rallies, there's always the overly simplistic message that can be reduced to a sign--"Zero taxes!" or "End all corporations!"--but I'd gather that most Tea Partiers want smaller, not nonexistent government, and most OWSers want corporate reform, not an end to the corporation as an entity. If there is an invididual absolutist though, that rides the metro while arguing that there should be no government at all, or enjoys his iPad while arguing that business profits should not exist period, then yes these are genuine hypocrites. Though it's the extremism of their positions and not the hypocrisy itself that should be reason to ignore them.

5) Sadly, neither the OWS or Tea Party crowds seem to have workable answers. Taxing just the very rich isn't going to close our deficits (not to mention the severe effects on the economy of doing such a thing) and neither will cutting government "waste". And of course neither of these things will create "jobs". The problem now is an overarching fear of risk that's keeping spending and investing down for everyone from the average consumer to big businesses--and until that changes we can expect a lot more rallies.

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