Rep. Eric Cantor (R, Virginia) characterized the protestors as a mob. One Fox News host even called the protestors dirty and useless. Glenn Beck said they are only interested in destruction, while his compatriot Ann Coulter compared them to Nazis and the beginnings of totalitarianism.
And presidential candidate and former pizza guy Herman Cain called them un-American and against Wall Street. “They’re the ones creating the jobs,” Cain said of Wall Street bankers and brokers, adding that those who are not rich or are unemployed should blame themselves.
Now, for those in the media and in politics who make a career out of bashing poor and working folks – and are paid handsomely to look out for the interests of the Koch Brothers and others who belong in that select group of 1 percenters – there’s no surprise here. But what of ordinary, hardworking and struggling people who call themselves conservatives? How should they feel about the goals of this nascent movement that appears to be gaining steam? And why do some of them vote against their economic interests?
One should note that recent polls find huge majorities – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, even the wealthy – supporting tax increases for the richest among us. This would suggest there is a broad consensus demanding fairness in the American economic system.
And really, that is all the Occupy Wall Street people are asking for. Their website says “We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” The message is simple and makes a lot of sense.
Wages have stagnated or fallen for working people, and poverty is on the increase. And yet, those with the most are accumulating even more everyday – not necessarily because they are deserving, hardworking and ingenious, though some may be. Rather, the haves became the have-mores because the have-nots have less. This is called upward wealth redistribution, and it is a matter of public policy, including regressive tax policy that favors corporations and the rich on purpose.
The wealthiest 1 percent now owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, whereas they only claimed 33 percent 25 years ago. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent own 85 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 80 percent is left with 7 percent – effectively zero. U.S. inequality is greater than at any time since the Great Depression, and greater than most OECD nations. America is a banana republic.
If F.D.R. saved capitalism from itself years ago, he also saved America from capitalism. What is needed today is what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “radical revolution of values,” as “an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
A few people control the wealth in this country, and those people control the system of governance. American politics is a scheme operating on legalized bribery. Money has corrupted the Democrats and the Republicans alike, especially Republicans. But even President Obama, who rode on a wave of populism and a demand for reform has appeared beholden to that Goldman Sachs money. Just look at the Wall Street lackeys doubling as his team of economic advisors these first three years, not to mention ill-advised policies, or lack thereof, on jobs and the financial system.
And the masses are angry because they are struggling, as they see the banks rewarded, by government, for their greed and failure. The banks wrecked the economy and now the working stiffs are paying the price. The TARP was in the hundreds of billions of dollars, while the Fed gave a total of $16 trillion in financial assistance to U.S. and foreign financial institutions from 2007 to 2010 – more than the nation’s 2010 GDP of $14.5 trillion.
The Tea Party was right to oppose the TARP bailout, but something went wrong along the way. Actually, they were hijacked by billionaires, if not a creation of them to begin with. And while they have every right to be angry, as many of us are these days, their anger is misplaced and misdirected. Their enemy is misidentified.
Conservatives proclaim that they believe in freedom and the free market. But freedom never meant the right of a handful to steal most of the nation’s wealth, run roughshod over the rest of us and wreck the country for a buck. Further, ours is not a free market capitalist system. Rather, it is a system of subsidized corporatism where only the people are forced to sink or swim. And increasingly, America is looking like feudalism, and most of us are serfs or sharecroppers spinning our wheels and going nowhere. Perhaps some people think that is a good thing.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party – which is a 100 percent certified water carrier for Wall Street – is adept at making its voter base believe its interests are aligned with that of the party’s funders. When it comes to the American Dream, these are the true Kool-Aid drinkers.
Part of the GOP’s success is its skill at sidetracking its base with contrived cultural issues. So, rank-and-file conservatives are kept busy hating undocumented Mexican immigrants, with promises to ban Sharia law, gay marriage, abortion and voter fraud, and other issues that have no positive impact on their economic well-being.
Yet, in this crisis of U.S.-style democracy and capitalism, conservatives are hurting like everyone else. Who knows what conservatives are conserving these days, but it is hard to conserve when there’s nothing left.
That’s why even they need to support Occupy Wall Street.
David A. Love