In a move that's not going to take anyone who's currently a member of America's working class by surprise, the editors of the New Republic have come out against the Occupy Wall Street movement. There's just something about ordinary people that rubs the well-heeled minds of America's premiere catalog of bourgeois thoughts the wrong way!
What is the New Republic's beef? Well, it's more or less [INSERT "DIRTY HIPPIE" CLICHE HERE, LATHER RINSE REPEAT], frankly. One problem that's cited is that the movement has "no single leader who is speaking for the crowds." Yes, that's from an unbylined piece from "The Editors." They're also against the "human microphone" that the demonstrators are using in Zuccotti Park because it enforces "group-think" and is "genuinely creepy" when "captured on video." Again, this is an unbylined piece from "The Editors," decrying "group-think."
It seems to have been lost on "The Editors" that the "human microphone" system (which allows the demonstrators to broadcast their individual opinions and stories) may not be intended to be "camera-ready" -- it's actually being employed to allow the demonstrators to comply with a law that forbids electronic amplification in Zuccotti Park. That the demonstrators respect the law is a pretty inconvenient fact for "The Editors" to grapple with, I suppose. In any event, I have to imagine that the sight of Marty Peretz penning another screed about how Arabs are mudbloods in his boxer shorts is an eminently more terrifying sight to behold on YouTube.
But the larger point the piece makes is that the Occupy Wall Street movement is so averse to capitalism that it will ultimately harm the cause of liberalism. "Liberalism," in this case, seems strictly defined as a philosophy that's entirely averse to rescuing ordinary Americans from the teeth of the financial calamity that's befallen them. It also seems that "liberalism" -- as "The Editors" imagine it -- is a political philosophy that makes extreme demands of ordinary American taxpayers ("We'll use your tax dollars to save the economy") while simulataneously pooh-poohing the notion that the same ordinary American taxpayers should share in the benefit of their charity. Or even be thanked for it. If this is "liberalism," then these demonstrators are right to oppose it. ("The Editors" seem to be unaware that the Democratic Party -- considered to be the nominal party of establishment liberalism -- is actually embracing this movement. That was reported on in this obscure newspaper known as The New York Times.)
And the idea that the Occupy Wall Street movement is "anti-capitalist" is nothing but a cheap canard. Here's Zaid Jelani with a street-level take on the movement:
There are indeed some anti-capitalist protesters among the people at Occupy Wall Street, just as there are protesters who are against the death penalty, or want to combat climate change, or any number of other causes, which is the norm at most mass protests. Some of the protesters are even supporters of the ultra-capitalist Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
But the actual organizing principle of the demonstrations is to speak with moral clarity of the economic inequality of our current system. The purpose is not to attack capitalism but rather an industry whose wealth was guarded to the hilt by government intervention — backed up by trillons of dollars of taxpayer money through programs like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and near-zero interest Federal Reserve lending — a form of government intervention that the banking industry received but millions of foreclosed on homeowners and debt-laden students did not get.
During a teach-in at Zuccotti Park, the site of the occupation, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz explained that what Wall Street is practicing is “not capitalism.” “We are bearing the costs of their [bankers'] misdeeds,” he said. “There’s a system where we socialize losses and privatize gains. That’s not capitalism. That’s not a market economy. That’s a distorted economy, and if we continue with that, we won’t succeed in growing.”
"One of the first obligations of liberalism," say "The Editors," "is skepticism." Well, Stiglitz -- who served for four years on President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors and then three years as chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank -- has been a fairly reliable skeptic for the better part of the past decade. And what he's saying about the ongoing state of the financial system is nothing new to anyone who's read his work. It certainly shouldn't be lost on "The Editors" of the New Republic, who have both published and praised his work in the past.
"The Editors" cite a single speech given at the protests, by Slavoj Zizek, as fitting their rubric for "anti-capitalist," and then just suggest he was "not alone" without managing to cite an additional example. From there, they criticize the recent failure of Occupy Atlanta to come to a consensus on whether to let Representative John Lewis speak or not, and fold that into a larger indictment of the demonstrators' "deliberative process." Depending on which eye you cover as you squint at this editorial, the demonstrators are either a ragtag band of poorly-integrated individual ideas or an unblinking Borg of "group-think."
"The Editors" could really use some "editors" to help them make up their minds!
Ultimately, we arrive at the conclusion that "liberal skepticism about this movement is not unwarranted." This is perhaps true: the movement is clearly in the process of slowly evolving. Speaking for myself, it seems to me that it's still in the process of forming a community of ordinary people who each have their own story to tell about their lives in post-crash America. We've seen these demonstrators test a few boundaries, undertake a few marches, and inspire similar demonstrations across the country. But by and large, this is a movement that's still figuring itself out -- and I doubt that many of the demonstrators would object to that critique.
As I've said before, the individual members that comprise this movement are ordinary citizens who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and lost their future as a reward for rescuing Wall Street, and they have been relentlessly treated as abstractions by the media. So their first "goal," as it were, is to finally render themselves visible to those who have resolutely ignored them.
All of this is utterly lost on "The Editors." But the larger problem here is that the whole notion of "liberal skepticism" is lost on them as well. If you come at this movement with an eye toward being a "liberal skeptic," you'd offer a critique of the movement that was animated by a desire to foster the best possible protest culture. You'd want to try to nurture the movement with the values that you hold dear. You'd be working to help shape this movement, and assist in its evolution. But that's not what "The Editors" want to do. Rather, they want to shut it down.
This is made very clear in the email their "Media Relations" person, Annie Augustine, sent out to reporters in an email this morning, in which she writes: "The Editors of The New Republic take a stand against Occupy Wall Street in the November 3 issue of the magazine." That's the message "The Editors" want out there, and that's how this is going to play in the media.
It raises the question: "Why do "The Editors" want this protest shut down?" I wondered the same thing, considering the fact that in their lead paragraph, they write: "Wall Street should be protested. Its resistance to needed regulations that would stabilize the U.S. economy is shameful. And, insofar as it has long opposed appropriate levels of government spending and taxation, it has helped to create a society that does a deeply flawed job of providing for its most vulnerable, educating its young, and guaranteeing economic opportunity for all."
That's precisely what the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have been saying!
I'm left to conclude, then, that the opposition that the New Republic has mounted against the movement is largely based on the fact that it finds all of this protesting in the streets and being unruly to be très gauche. It lacks the self-congratulatory elan of the leisure-class careerist thought-havers, who safely cast feather-light critiques against the ills that have befallen America without concern about their shirt cuffs getting marred with the stain of actual sweat-equity.
Don't the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators understand that as long as they persist in doing what they're doing, no one will ever invite them to a fancy Beltway cocktail party?
PREVIOUSLY, on THE HUFFINGTON POST:
Occupy Wall Street Vs. Erin Burnett: A Primer In Media Failure
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