I despise Cronyism, but that doesn’t mean I have to like Occupy Wall Street

It’s Monday, arguably the least-favorite day on the working calendar, for any American. I’m a weirdo, though. I like Monday. Monday always brings with it the promise of a fresh start, new gas in the tank, a brand new 7 days in which to get stuff done. Every Sunday night before I fall asleep I try to psych myself up — to go into the new week with energy and focus. On that note, I’m going to drop a quick post in the blog bucket, before I engage my lane for the day.

Tuesday ETA: having discussed the matter with David Brin, I am going to redact what I said in this space previously. I had been attempting to paraphrase him but neglected to confirm whether or not Mr. Brin believed the paraphrasing to be true and accurate. Which he did not, and in fact resented having words put in his mouth. Which is understandable. Apologies to Mr. Brin, who has been kind enough to accept my mea culpa on the matter.

Though Occupy Wall Street is nominally anti-Cronyist, they are not and never have been the so-called 99% that’s written into their slogans. If this really were a case of the 99% vs. the 1% then the “war” would be over already. Working Americans would have surrounded all of the state capitols, and the national capitol, and a lot of politicians would now be on the unemployment line. Working Americans understand that, as ugly as Wall Street corruption can be, it’s the corruption in the government which permits the corruption on Wall Street in the first place.

Also, working Americans are not and have never been rabidly anti-business, nor even anti-wealth. In positioning itself as an anti-capitalist, anti-rich movement, Occupy Wall Street has deafened the ears of its nominal allies. Every working American wants to earn what he keeps, and keep what he earns, and when the language of OWS becomes too “redistributive” even those who spit on Cronyism get a sour look on their faces, and keep their hands on their pockets. What working America wants is to see the Cronyists in the corporate world and the state world, divorced from each other. No more billion-dollar bail-outs for the proverbial money-changers in the temples. No more revolving doors between the halls of big government and the executive chairs of big business.

Working Americans also pride themselves for being Good Citizens who uphold and abide by the law. Especially the laws against vandalism and destruction of public property. I remember when I lived and worked in Seattle in 1999, the WTO riots made even a lot of Seattle’s run-of-the-mill liberals upset. There was a lot of wanton destruction that accompanied the WTO. A lot of senseless sound and fury, which ultimately signified nothing. And cost the tax-payers millions of dollars to repair, to say nothing of the disruption to work-a-day businesses. Marching and speaking your voice are all well and good, but the moment you begin defacing, vandalizing, breaking windows, etc, you’ve lost the faith of people who work for a living. And you’re liable to not get it back.

Finally, working America likes a clean, coherent, one-issue or very-few-issues platform. Smorgasboard or accretion platforms tend not to resonate, because invariably the more people you try to appease with inclusion, the more self-contradictory your position. And OWS has become nothing if not self-contradictory. Like the previously-mentioned WTO, it has become an all-protest for the all-protestors — professional complainers and recreational thrill-seekers for whom the “message” isn’t as important as making a spectacle, making trouble, or making a nuisance.

A couple of weeks ago I said on John Scalzi’s blog that I was hesitant to criticize OWS because I was, at my core, sympathetic. Cronyism is a *BIG* problem which has allowed some *BIG* problems to develop. If OWS had managed to keep its focus on Cronyism — and if OWS had correctly targeted the seat of government, instead of the seat of finance, I’d not be saying a word against them. Alas, OWS has become a diluted, generalized, contradictory, and increasingly dangerous and destructive operation that doesn’t have any more control over its “membership” than any other would-be anarchist-agitator group. If OWS has been poisoned by the so-called “Black Bloc” it’s because OWS willfully took on the language and the trappings of the perpetually aggrieved. Taking matters to the pols, as the much maligned Tea Party has done, was not terribly fashionable.

Better to try an Occupation of Everywhere, which — farce of farces — ends up going nowhere.

And now working America’s patience with OWS is growing thin. The camps are starting to be cleared. Not because Americans love fascism — but because Americans don’t put up with childish tantrums. OWS had a chance to latch onto the public imagination, and barring that sector of committed Leftists who really do follow a Marx-Alinsky playbook, OWS lost the public imagination. Through contradictory messaging and contradictory behavior. Through vandalism and rioting that seemed to target everything and nothing, everyone and no one. Through intra-party squabbles and porous policies that permit the accretion of the crazy, the derelict, the willfully miscreant, and the haphazardly criminal.

If OWS has an “image problem” with working America, don’t blame it on the media. Which has been and continues to be extraordinarily kind-hearted to OWS at almost every turn. Blame it on the fact that OWS chose to break faith with those it claims to champion — the clock-punchers of the universe. People who work real jobs and get real stuff done, and just want to go home to their families at night, flip on the TV and enjoy a few of the good things in life, and know that everyone in America plays by the same rules.

Right now, the Cronyists don’t play by the same rules — and working America is realizing this. But that doesn’t mean working America automatically has sympathy for street theater or tired and childish shenanigans.

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20 thoughts on “I despise Cronyism, but that doesn’t mean I have to like Occupy Wall Street

  1. In my view, the real problem with the OWS folks was that they weren’t really against the bailouts, they were upset that they didn’t receive one as well. And once that became clear, ordinary Americans saw them for what they were, and generally ignored them as much as possible.

  2. Hey, Brad, remember this? Apparently it’s harder for you to hold back than you thought it would be, judging from your last three posts. These are not topics that will give you time to focus on writing. It’s more like you walked around with a stick, looking for hornets’ nests.

    They’re good posts, by the way, but they’re still hornets’ nests.

  3. I think what Brin missed is that OWS was focused on the wrong target, at best, and wanted to become part of the problem, at worst. What I see as the problem is the “triangle trade”, big business ==> K street & the bankers ==> big government ==> big business; putting OWS in as one of the members, or making the triangle a rectangle, is going to make the problem worse, not better.

    If it’s too big to fail, it needs to be broken up. Business, Unions, Banks, K Street, and Government.

  4. Good post, Brad. I agree that the OWS movement is a busted flush. A lot of us were sympathetic to their aims and agreed that some of their targets did have questions to answer. But the disorganisation, the factional splits, the faiure to manage their camps has poisoned their cause.

    In Australia we have an even weaker, more attenuated version of OWS. Like a polital pamphlet photocopied too many times, I don’t even think the protestors know what they’re protesting about. Strangely, for the usual rent-a-mob who show up to criticise American foreign policy, they have latched onto an American movement like lampreys. Like the lamplrey they don’t really care where their host is gong. They’re just there for the ride.

    Time for the farce to end.

  5. This might be a bit surprising given my Red State background, status as a proud Army veteran, etc, but I’m actually sympathetic towards most of the OWS kids.

    If I were in my 20s and confronting the mountains of public and private debt and the poorly maintained infrastructure that my elders left me, I‘d be furious. In fact, I’d probably be out there as an active participant.

    We, the elder generations have failed them. We’ve failed them badly. We’ve left them with far fewer lifetime opportunities than the generation that fought World War II passed down to us. After nearly three decades of stagnant wages, millions of jobs lost this past decade, an exported manufacturing base, rising college costs, and declining education standards, we’ve given them largely useless university degrees and large student debts that have left them faced with either long-term unemployment, or if they’re lucky, jobs that pay significantly less in exchange for heavier workloads.

    And we’re telling the OWS kids that they’re spoiled and whiny?

    Looking around the polarized political landscape of name calling that both the left and right indulge in today, we’ve certainly failed at setting an example of maturity as well as at exercising the restrained, civil dialog that is crucial to the functioning and good order of a republican society.

    All of this is part of the reason I’ve felt pride seeing many recent, unemployed college graduates use their time and talents to organize and run garbage collection, medical, library, education, and food services at the OWS. I’m especially impressed that so many who were born and raised in comfortable indoor environments have been willing to gut it out in the cold and rainy weather for the first time in their lives.

    Given their youth, it’s not surprising that there has been a good deal of nativity on the part of the OWS crowds. Allowing a large number of homeless into the camps as a gesture of egalitarian solidarity was generous, but unwise. It’s attracted a significant criminal element along with a large number of individuals who are there for a handout rather than to be part of a solution to the larger issues facing all of us.

    I’m certainly not asking anyone to agree with the solutions or the political rhetoric that the OWS kids are espousing. That said, I do think it is entirely reasonable that we keep in mind that they are out there because of our failings as citizens. However inexpertly or even immaturely they might be going about making their voices heard, they are looking to salvage something of the future that we screwed up for them.

  6. I hadn’t thought of that — you may be right. “Where’s ours??” does seem to be a strong message of the OWS movement. Can’t blame them — if you assume it’s the government’s job to bail out everybody. And I think that’s part of OWS’s message too.

  7. I’d have left it alone, but after the third go-round with David Brin, I decided I ought to use the blog to make a general statement — just for my own clarity, if nothing else. I’m still formulating my “blog theory” as it were. I hope you will forgive some bumps?

  8. Your analogy of a pamphlet photocopied too many times is priceless!! I must remember it. Also, it’s fascinating hearing about OWS as an ‘export’ overseas. Thanks for the comment, Richard.

  9. Alex, I want to empathize with the OWS kids, but the landscape of 2011 doesn’t look that different than the landscape of 1991, when I was getting ready to leave highschool. Or, at least, it doesn’t look that different to me. I agree that those of us from the “old” set have made a fairly big mess of things — most through voter inattention and failure to ‘mind the store’ in Washington D.C. But I would propose to you that all adults, of any age and at any time, are still responsible for their own choices. Emerging from college with debt and a worthless degree is not automatic. There are choices involved. I don’t even have a college degree, and I support a family and own a home. So it’s not like a college degree is an absolute requirement. Perhaps that’s where I can see your logic: we’ve peddled, “Get a degree and be well-off,” for so long, we never bothered to mention that changing job markets would factor into it. To say nothing of telling them, “Not all Bachelors of Masters degrees are created equally.” My wife’s Womens Studies degree is probably not worth the paper it’s printed on, frankly. Thankfully she’s got me — the HS grad — to pay off the loan. (evil grin)

  10. Oh my heck, Michael, this link gives me flashbacks to the WTO in 1999. Totally. Yes, I should be more forgiving. But really, this is a carnival that cannot be taken seriously. These are not serious people. This is not a serious movement. These do not seem to be the activities of grown-ups. (sorry, OWS sympathizers, this is just how I feel about it at this time…)

  11. Cost of education has risen five times the rate of inflation in 30 years, but the value of that education has gone down, not up.

    I know, I just offended a bunch of educators, but it’s an objective fact: the degrees kids get today don’t offer the same level of job prospects as the degrees they got 30 years ago. I’m not saying why nor pointing fingers, I’m just looking at the data.

    So I do understand the frustration of mounting debt and diminished prospects. I’m not sure what they think OWS will do about that. Debt forgiveness ain’t gonna happen. It would crash the banking system, the economy, and the country.

  12. As “telling” and/or disturbing as the images are at that blog post, what I found particularly interesting was the information on the background of the “movement” – specifically WHO the people doing the planning are, and what they were saying behind the scenes several months before the first protesters showed up… Also, I find it interesting that the “leadership” is comprised of a strange-bedfellows aggregation of communists and anarchists. (FWIW, I think the Communists are just using the Anarchists as cannon fodder and have no intention of dividing the spoils when the dust settles.)

    I think what’s going on in the street should not be taken seriously – because it is so tragically comical – but the REAL motives behind it should be taken deadly seriously.

  13. I agree, Brad and Skip. It’s all about a false sense of entitlement so pervasive today. People claim entitlement to things which others who have worked hard for. It’s a cultural change I am increasingly uncomfortable with and for me OWS really represents it.

  14. And unemployment (real unemployment, not the # of people getting bennies) is somewhere around 22%. That’s much different from 1991 (or even 2001 or 2005). I’ve watched people, not the least of whom my own husband, with good degrees, years of experience, etc, apply to hundreds of jobs and not get a single one.

    It’s tough out there.

    But I don’t think that’s what OWS is about, at least not to my understanding. It’s about the fact that the people who ruined the economy by pretending bad debt was good debt and repackaging it to more or less print money (that’s the simplified version), that those people (and companies), haven’t been held accountable. Alas, they have all the money, so they probably never will be. But it is nice that people are at least saying it hasn’t gone unnoticed. We’ll see if anything else ever comes of it.

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