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By Joel Straley
The media has become obsessed with the question “What does Occupy Wall Street want?” The media is becoming so frustrated trying to find the answer that they’ve begun to glorify the previous voice of protest in America, the Tea Party. They claim the Tea Party was different since it had a focused agenda and a stance on policies being pushed through congress. Just so we’re clear the agenda of the Tea Party was essentially “No Taxes, Small Government, President Obama is a Kenyan/Nazi.” In these turbulent times their concerns were less of about solutions and more about distractions.
The news media lives in such a fast-paced, ADHD vacuum that they cannot take seriously anything that isn’t creating constant soundbites, buzzwords or just some simple cheap gratification. It is obvious how this has affected political narratives in our country. This creates a confrontational dichotomy with two sides to every issue and nothing but complete cynicism and anger towards those with opposing viewpoints. Now instead of synthesizing our ideas and comprising in the name of progress, it is believed that anyone who disagrees with you lacks “common sense.” Politics is a game of conflict, policy is a game of compromise. The media is a business and creating conflicts gets ratings. Ratings get advertisers, everyone gets paid and nothing gets resolved.
The media sent out cameras to garner a bunch of these divisive soundbites to essentially write off the whole protest. This hasn’t been going as well as they planned:
The media loved the Tea Party because they gave them soundbites, confrontation and conflict. But they didn’t give any substance or thought to the new ideology and concerns they were supposedly bringing to America. They created news but had little concern for a discussion about solutions.
(Is Obama Hitler? Tonight on CNN)
In a time of economic turmoil with a jobs crisis and banks continuing to fight for their “right to profit" after having been bailed out by the government (by the taxpaying 99%) and Warren Buffet (who personally bailed out Bank of America while suggesting a tax hike on the top 1%), what would a bunch of disenfranchised citizens want in a protest against Wall Street and the lobbying control of congress? The media can’t figure it out no matter how many times they interview people holding signs that read "We are the 99%.”
The media just wants soundbites and the Tea Party was full of them because its message was so simplistic. Too simplistic. The Tea Party view of the global economy is one from the 1950’s (if not the 1150’s) while the Occupy Wall Street view is of 2011. If the goal of the Tea Party was truly to re-establish America to its 1776 roots then it’s surprising how overlooked the Occupy Wall Street’s approach is to that of Thomas Jefferson’s version of Ward Democracy with their holding of daily general assemblies.
When speakers at Tea Party events spoke about their economic views they were often so simplistic that I wondered how the crowd did not feel condescended to. Instead they cheered. It fed into the idea that this was “common sense.” In a way it was. But it was too common. It only restated the basic tenants of business as some new grand idea. It in no way took into consideration the current world that we live in and the economic challenges we face. Reading the syllabus of Econ 101 has to make a big leap in translation to truly tackle the greed of Wall Street whose rules are convoluted purposefully to mislead lawyers and politicians when investigating their tactics.
It’s all well and good to tell a crowd “The government shouldn’t tell you how to run your business” and get some applause. But we live in a world where the government tells an Oil company their Oil rigs aren’t up to standard and said Oil rig then explodes, killing 11 people and can’t be shut off, spending months pouring into the ocean while putting a substantial dent into the innocent coastal food markets. Now you start to see how there is a bigger discussion to be had here. This is also to say nothing of the complexities that come with financial regulations needed to correct the corruption and control of lobbyist over congress, which is essentially the black cloud that hangs over this entire debate.
The Tea Party achieved only one thing; getting media attention to their own narcissistic rambling. It shouldn’t even be a surprise that the Tea Party had no substance when they held events with speakers that ranged from wearing Revolutionary War costumes to an SNL cast member playing “The President is a Communist" on a ukulele. One of the most popular questions to a politician ever video-taped at one of these events was just a Veteran singing a verse from the Star-Spangled Banner.
There was no real agenda for the media to latch on to. Instead of having an agenda or a policy plan, it was just Americans who were angry and could unite over their bond of blind patriotism that is still connected to ancient ideals they don’t dare question, let alone take the time consider their relevancy to the cultural value changes that had made them so angry in the first place.
(You certainly never saw a sign like this at a Tea Party rally)
By pretending that the Occupy Wall Street protests don’t have any ‘demands’ or an ‘agenda’ the media is essentially admitting their own simple-mindedness. They’re too simple-minded to engage the conversation that Occupy Wall Street is trying to initiate (for instance: This ABC News segment). The Tea Party didn’t have a better or more succinct agendal; they just had a simple-minded, more confrontational agenda. We don’t live in nice and simple times. We face complex problems that will take a deep analysis and a sense of togetherness in order to find the solutions that reflect who we truly are as Americans.
Occupy Wall Street matters precisely because they don’t yet have answers to the questions they’re raising. They’re not fighting for short solutions to complex problems. We have been trying that for years. They’re fighting so we can try something new: having an actual discussion with each other without cutting off to a commercial break to appease advertisers. They’re fighting to try and get to what substance is even left in what we value in our society.
I constantly see conservatives bashing the Occupy Wall Street protests with the defense that the protesters are somehow spoiled and take the system for granted. Of course at some level they are spoiled-they’re Americans, they live in the richest country in the world in total GDP. But to be fair, the system has been taking them for granted for a long time. They are fighting to help improve the standard of life that America stands for, the one that it has allowed to drop to unacceptable levels. Through the lens of the media and those conservatives it is more American to just sing “Amazing Grace” in a microphone at a county fair than to believe we should be a more socially and economically just society. When did settling for whatever scraps you can get become so American? Is having pride that you had a house, even though it’s been foreclosed on an ideal America stands for?
In many cases those criticizing the Occupy Wall Street protests are showing a pride in their suffering and saying things such as “I don’t have health insurance and you don’t see me…” This comes from a party who recently went so far with their Tea Party libertarian ideals that they cheered for the death of those who lack health insurance coverage. It’s not that this is simply hypocritical as all those who brag that they “don’t have health insurance” could easily be left for dead under the policy changes they support. The fact that there is no substance in their ideology is what allows such deeply ironic hypocrisies to arise.
Every ideology has some hypocritical inconsistencies when it transforms from a passionate theory to a pragmatic practice. But if we rush to form sides before we even know what we’re debating we will never begin to have a real discussion, let alone find something we all agree on. For once, Isn’t that the kind of thing a guy at a podium, dressed like a Revolutionary war soldier, should be telling us?
And because it seems somewhat relevant:
My friend Nic Vogele recently shook hands with President Obama as he made his way to Cincinnati to promote his new Jobs bill. He recorded the speech and posted it on his blog: nlvogs.wordpress.com
Below is what Nic originally posted. He made the mistake of asking my opinion. Here is our conversation about the current Jobs crisis and it’s wider implications:
Nic: All I can say is, re-energized. Time for movement. Time for progress. To all my fellow veterans, listen to what is said at [7:15], please listen and tell me President Obama doesn’t care about you. I feel ready for voting season after this speech. I am not saying my vote is sold, set, or cast, but I am ready. Optimistic, and ready.
Joel: I certainly hope that this bill makes it easier for veterans to get jobs when they return. Are you still in the Marines? and where have you been stationed?
The thing about President Obama is that he is a great speaker and excellent at running for president and seems to be going back into campaign mode in the way he is pushing this bill. One thing is that this bill might not be enough. Obama is too ready to compromise with republicans who literally would rather destroy the country than ever make him look good. The thing about that is the base that the republicans (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell in particular) are trying to appeal to is not only dwindling, it’s been split into two because of the tea party. Obama needs to play hardball with these guys. For one they keep talking about what “they were sent to Washington to do” and have done nothing but appose bills and rarely push their own plan. I assume they think this will make it look like Obama is failing and they’re not to blame (but they have to know their approval is 12%) and so they can tell the Tea Party they tried to stop Obama from his socialist government spending (I don’t think Obama’s spending is ‘socialism’, I just think that the it’s the type of language that the Tea Party uses and responds to)
President Obama hasn’t been confident in demanding the respect he deserves. He needs to come at them hard with bills that will have drastic impacts and then know that the republicans will water them down when they try to pass it (This way he insures much of his plan actually gets passed). When FDR was president he constantly demanded a 100% tax on Americans making more than $350,000- he was largely playing politics because he knew in the end he would still get a large tax increase on the wealthiest citizens that helped create the revenue to end the Great Depression.
If they focus not just on infrastructure jobs but also on jobs that help the environment he could be getting two birds with one stone. One of the first things he caved on during the Debt Ceiling spending cuts was the billions needed for the High Speed rail. I think that was a huge mistake for the amount of money saved and the amount of carbons emissions reduced in the long run. Of course the Republicans see that spending as superficial and easy to cut. I honestly feel that they don’t even believe their own rhetoric about how bad the country is doing and feel like until they see someone on the street begging for change in their gated neighborhood they don’t believe it. There was a senator from Kentucky who stayed late to filibuster an unemployed benefits extension bill that was set to expire and said that he was so sad – that he was missing his local college basketball game on TV.
My point is Obama needs push them against the wall. Fuck class warfare claims and tax the shit out of the rich- repeal the Bush tax cuts (that he shouldn’t have extended anyway) and force them to actually explain why they only plan they have is tax cuts for the rich. Which as you can see they can’t do: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-september-21-2011/exclusive—mitch-daniels-extended-interview-pt–1 To be fair they act like they don’t live in an America that respects them when in fact we have been doing things their way since Reagan and the fallacy’s of trickle-down-economics is what has gotten us here.
Ultimately the real problem with the Jobs bill, tax cuts and all other solutions is that they don’t take into account how fast the world is changing and the opportunities that come with that. This debate has almost no historical context what so ever. The real problem is that the developed world suffered during the industrial revolution (in terms of health, overworked, child labor and new tests of our morality, etc.) as we moved from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Our industrial society now only survives on the backs of people who’s living standards are incredibly below most Americans comfort level. That’s basically the bottom line. That’s where things like Michelle Bachman’s claim to lower the minimum wage come in. If we really want jobs and want to compete we have to have a small plutocracy and a large base of overworked poor people. With this Americans have to answer do we want just any jobs or do we want jobs that fit into the American way of life?
The answer to this is that America moves from an Industrial society to a service based society. The internet, just like the factory and the assembly line, has forced society to rethink how commerce can be exchanged. At first we could only sell what food and essential products that the demand could consume then we could mass manufacture products for leisure and now we can exchange information, ideas and experience. There is an irony that society suffers such hardships every time this transition occurs since essentially every transition makes it easier for average people to earn money. Every transition usually leads to a system that makes virtually every member of society wealthier. Here is a great article on this: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/07/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete/index.html?iref=allsearch
So basically I think these back and forth’s over jobs and government spending tend to sound more like the insights of beginning economics students and not educated men who are guiding one of the powerful countries in the world through one of the most important times in history.
Sorry this was book. You should have known not to ask me about politics but I’m glad you did. It’s been a long since our late night, beer-fueled dorm debates and I look forward to hear what you think and what you thought of Obama’s speech that you saw.
Nic: Joel, thanks for the book, I quite thoroughly enjoyed it. I have to say I agree with your stand in what you have written here. I have submerged myself quite heavily into the sciences since my BG days; and in turn have found a wealth of understanding in the environmental threat that is upon us. I just saw congress blow up the twitter box about the Passing of the TRAIN Act ,which pushes the imposed restrictions of air pollution from power plants, back another 2 years. We are in a mess, and much of my research has shown that any shift in policy is too late to slow the change in global climate. This is our future, so now is the time to prepare for what we have imposed on ourselves. I read a book called The Empty Tank about peak oil and global dependence on fossil fuels. Pretty much, as you likely are aware, we are on, past or about to hit the topping point of oil production. The bullshit babble of us having oil for another 150 years is indeed true. What you dont hear is that the process of extracting will yield less product, at higher costs. If oil companies are even able to stay afloat at such minimal profit margins, you can bet your ass that petro costs will soar. I put it like this… It’s kinda like having a big cup of Dr. Pepper at the movies. Once you sit down and get comfy, you start slurping down that soda. Until about half way through the movie all is gravy. But because those theater chairs are so nice and the movie is just getting good, nobody in the group wants to go get the free refill (concession sales count on this). After bugging the folks all around you, suckin away at the ice melt like a mad man, the last piece of crunches away. Fortunately for Dr. Pepper fans… the movie comes to an end. Unfortunately for us… we have to keep this shit rolling (or so I hope… sometimes.) I have a ton more to chat about, but I just don’t have the time right now.
Joel: I think that analogy to Dr. Pepper is true – if you also remember that even the concession stand has less “Dr. Pepper” than would fill up your one cup. And also that “Dr. Pepper” is needed to maintain everything from the refrigerator, the wood paneling of the theatre, the slacks you’re wearing, the boots you’re wearing, the cell phone in your pocket, the toilet seats, the plastic wood paneling and the upholstery of the seat you’re in, the trash bag that will collect the empty cup and the lid, straw, plastic container and even the painted on logo of that cup of “Dr. Pepper”…or Oil. I guess that’s what happens when you build a global economy and lifestyle on an non-renewable resource and it runs out.