NEW HAVEN -- Jack Fowler was not amused.
Or maybe he was. It's hard to say.
The publisher of the National Review was asked what he thought of the American flag being flown upside by protesters at Occupy New Haven on the city's historic Green. The flag has been inverted since Thanksgiving, but the city's daily newspaper, the New Haven Register, recently ran a story that sought comment on the "controversial" treatment of Old Glory.
Occupy New Haven is one of a dozen or so remaining encampments in the country. In November, police actions nationwide pushed protesters out of public parks and on to college campuses. Organizers of New Haven's settlement say the upside down flag symbolizes a country in distress. Economic injustice, crony capitalism, deep-pocketed influence peddling by Wall Street -- these have turned liberty and justice for all upside down, they say.
Fowler, who lives in nearby Milford, virtually sniffed and raised his eyebrows before telling the the Register that he expects that kind of thing from lefty ne'er-do-wells.
"I want the flag respected and treated well, but I'm not going to get my knickers in a wad because these people are engaging in another oddball stunt," he told the Register.
But one man's "oddball stunt" is another man's expression of patriotism.
"It means there is a state of emergency," Tommy "Doomsday," one of the occupiers who often speaks to the press, told the Register. "There is a state of emergency here in America."
Fowler, like many on the right, tried to invalidate the gravity of such claims by belittling them, calling the inverted American flag a kind of "street theater" -- all talk, no walk.
But his critique wasn't complete without some Kindergarten smash-mouth.
"It sounds like a legitimate way to show they are a bunch of doofuses," he added.
So Fowler doesn't take the Occupy Movement seriously.
It's a sideshow. A mere entertainment.
A funny thing, though. For being one of the most influential voices in conservative American politics (the magazine he operates was founded by the godfather of conservatism, William F. Buckley), Fowler sounds kind of out of touch. He's right, of course. Symbols (like an upside down American flag) aren't going to legitimize the movement. But he's wrong, too.
Legitimization has already happened.
In early October, U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York said Republicans can't give the Occupy Movement legitimacy, because if they do, the Occupy Movement will influence public policy just as social justice and anti-war movements did in the 1960s.
"We can't allow that to happen," he told talk radio host Laura Ingraham.
This week, a question that kept popping up at a conference of the Republican Governors Association in Florida was: "How do Republicans talk about Occupy Wall Street."
Even Frank Luntz, the arch-spin doctor of the Grand Old Party, was worried. "I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort," he told a conference audience. "I'm frightened to death."
According to Yahoo! News, Luntz told Republicans to avoid using words like "capitalism." "We're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,'" he said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is talking about wealth inequality as political ammo next year. In 2008, Barack Obama was lambasted for explaining to Samuel Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) that wealth redistribution is good for everybody. John McCain called him a socialist. But now the Democrat most in hock to Wall Street is following suit.
But according to Schumer's political adviser, whose strategy memo was quoted in the New York Times this week, "The Republican/Tea Party narrative about the economy has been superseded by a different narrative -- one that emphasizes the growing gap between those at the very top of the economic ladder and the rest of the country."
What narrative? You know the one -- we are the 99 percent.
Instead all the focus being on Washington, the focus in now on Wall Street, which is exactly where the GOP does not want you to focus. As Lutz suggested Republicans tell voters: "You shouldn't be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington."
As for the flag, I visited Occupy New Haven on Thanksgiving. The first person I met took my hand in both of his and told me: "God bless you and God bless this great country of ours."
There was nothing theatrical about that.
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