What Do [Those People] Want?

I see that, while I was gone, a number of "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been going on. This morning I ran across a Daily Caller article comparing the protest unfavorably to yesteryear's Tea Party rallies. I was amused to see that some Tea Partiers are mystified by the new protesters:
The “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement . . . has been described as the left’s response to the tea party. But do the two movements share any common ground?

According to Tea Party Patriots National Chairman Mark Meckler, the answer is an emphatic “no.”

“These are law breaking people,” Meckler told The Daily Caller. “We have nothing in common with them other than we are all American citizens. My read on the news is that they do not even know what they are protesting.”

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips agreed. “I see very little in the way of commonalities between the two groups,” Phillips told TheDC. “The Occupy Wall Street protesters act mostly as a mob, without any real coherent explanation of their grievances."

I hear more than a faint echo of the constant complaint against Tea Partiers: that they were mindlessly angry and didn't have any coherent notion what they wanted. After all, no one could seriously want smaller government, right? Because most of these people held on to their Social Security and Medicare benefits for dear life. And who doesn't want highways and firemen? So what are they doing in the street? They must simply hate black people. The National Journal sniffed, "The current movement seems more against things than for something. They seem short on data and practical recommendations and long on venting." A NY Times blogger charged that "the Tea Partiers are overwhelming Republican or right-of-Republican — they are the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within U.S. government." A LaGrange citizen asked his local newspaper editor, "The Tea Partiers say they don’t like what the progressive movement has done to our country. What are they talking about?"

For that matter, I'm reminded of the time-honored question, "What do women want?"

I suggest that that phrase normally means something like, "I have a hard time imagining how anyone could seriously propose such a program, so I'm going to affect not even to be able to identify the program proposed." It's not an approach that will help us solve disputes among ourselves. In fact, the Tea Party's Mr. Phillips immediately contradicts his inability to understand the "Occupy Wall Street" agenda by complaining that the "protesters are upset about bailouts but they want to see that money used on more social programs" -- an agenda that I join him in opposing, but that nevertheless seems comprehensible enough. Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo did a better job, I think, of uncritical listening. He noted that the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, like Tea Partiers, objected to crony capitalism:

“I think you find that the left and the right come together on that, kind of for different reasons, but come to the same conclusion that government ought not to be picking winners and losers.”


Grim said...

I agree with you this far: it is clear that there is a real populism swelling on both the right and the left. That populism is furious at the way that the bailouts and the new regulations have been structured to put all the weight of the recession on the People, to the benefit of big banks and corporations that have lobbyist ties.

The problem for this new movement, in terms of fixing the complaint, is nevertheless the one cited: there is no clear plan for addressing the issue that has broad support. The TEA Party movement is broadly collected around a set of plans to reduce the power of the government, restore the 10th Amendment, and so forth; and to me, that seems like the right approach.

The Left-populism is coalescing around what is really the opposite position: to increase government's regulatory role, so that government can punish the corporations and banks (and other associated rich people). It's unclear to me why they think this can work, given that their initial complaint is that the government is already completely in bed with these groups.

But the bigger problem is this: what's the middle ground that can allow these two populist strains to work together? There may be some small-scale agreement on this issue or that one, but is there an overall approach that can allow us to leverage the whole populism to reform the government? If not, the crony capitalists are going to win, because they control all the levers of power both in and out of government.

douglas said...

Not all the levers- we still have a vote, and if one movement (or the other, God forbid) gets big enough to where it persuades the voters to vote based on these principals, instead of the usual 'congress stinks- except my congressman because he brings home some token bacon' reasoning, we start pulling the levers. The one thing congressmen want more than to hang out with lobbyists, is to keep their jobs.

I think the Tea Party movement has started to do that.