The OWS protests are one of those things that in retrospect, I wished I had covered from the very beginning. A truly populist movement protesting against the country’s entrenched powers is increasingly rare due to the great success those powers have had in slowly eroding the lives of the people they control over the past half century.
Labor unions, which had been one of the greatest tools in history to hold establishment power in check, have been nearly wiped out. Middle class wages have been stagnant while the top 1% have repeatedly gambled themselves to the brink of disaster only to have their debts paid by those who can least afford them. Elections are now decided by which corporations have the most money to spend on buying off politicians, while those politicians make it harder and harder for Americans to vote every year.
It’s not at all surprising that joining the “liberal” media, government, high finance, and establishment pundit attacks on the protestors are the freedom-loving, government hating Tea Party’ers who have pretended to be the face of the American people for the past two years. For whatever that movement began as, its dominant trait today is that it has been largely co-opted by the establishment Republican Party and now exists to protect and serve that establishment.
The primary enabler of that establishment group are extremely wealthy and powerful elites on Wall Street that fund conservative candidates during national elections. Scott Brown was supposed to be a Tea Party team captain and had that movement’s full support when he ran against Martha Coakley in 2010. But Brown’s campaign wasn’t funded by the Tea Party. President Obama mockingly said that Brown’s pickup truck – that was supposed to make him a good, normal American and was widely featured by that campaign – was often parked on Wall Street.
Brown did as he was expected to do as a member of the GOP establishment and worked to significantly weaken Wall Street reformregulations in the Senate – after taking massive donations from some of the country’s largest banks – before playing faux hero to the Democrats and the middle class by voting to pass the legislation he insured wouldn’t prove to be a problem for his corporate finance owners.
Those are the kinds of people that have largely consumed and now control the Tea Party, and as such everything the Tea Party does should be seen in that context. When Tea Party Patriots National Chairman Mark Meckler told The Daily Caller that the Wall Street protests “are law breaking people”, he was merely expressing the prevailing opinion of citizen protests and populist movements generally amongst establishment rulers who aren’t bothered by the rising price of caviar and aren’t in any danger of losing one of their three luxury homes.
This is the philosophy that the law doesn’t apply to elites like politicians and Wall Street gamblers. The mere suggestion that government officials should be investigated for possible war crimes committed by the CIA and illegal spying by the NSA during the Bush administration, or that Wall Street investors should be investigated for the massive mortgage fraud at the very heart of the recession and the subsequent suffering it caused a huge portion of the country to endure, evokes images of violent mobs and systemic anarchy.
Despite significant public support for investigating both of these issues, the Republican Party strongly opposes both (as both would represent attacks on the establishment), and therefore so does the Tea Party. (For the record, establishment Democrats are hardly any different in that regard.)
The Tea Party was allowed to exist and eventually taken over by an establishment political party precisely because it was never a populist movement that threatened establishment power to begin with. That much has been proven beyond argument by the 2010 elections, which probably represented the peak of the Tea Party’s influence on American politics, but which resulted in absolutely no meaningful changes in Washington.
It’s true that there are populist sentiments within the Tea Party, which have often spawned the most bizarre alliances one could possibly imagine. It was Tea Party freshmen in the House that joined with progressive Democrats to vote against renewal of the PATRIOT Act earlier this year, although they were quickly marginalized by establishment powers that simply couldn’t live without their surveillance state law.
Unfortunately that movement wasn’t based on restoring civil liberties and allowed itself too quickly and too easily to be merged and assimilated by an establishment party (the GOP) before it accomplished anything.
The Occupy Wall Street movement may not have any better luck, but at least for the time being, it represents what the Tea Party wanted to be, pretended to be, but never has been: a truly populist movement made up of all types of Americans that are tired of being abused by financial elites that are enabled and supported by their own government.
It would make little sense for OWS to be supported by and folded into the Democratic Party due to that party being owned by Wall Street as much as anyone is. The Obama administration is leaning heavily on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to drop the only meaningful investigations of criminal wrong-doing by Wall Street in the entire country, so that a (relatively) small fine can be paid and everyone can go back to what they were doing without anyone being held accountable for the financial collapse.
Democrats tried and ultimately failed to pass meaningful reform due to Republican obstruction, but also because many conservative Democrats decided to look out for the best interests of their campaign donors instead of what’s best for you and their country. That’s what they exist to do, they are well trained and they know what purpose they serve.
OWS, at least for the time being, represents a real threat to the establishment in ways that the Tea Party never could, or even wanted to do. Resenting Wall Street’s abuse and law breaking isn’t a partisan issue. Most Republicans are middle class and poor, just like most Democrats are. Everyone except the rich and politically powerful (which tend to be the same thing) are suffering greatly and every step forward that Washington takes seems destined to make life better for the people causing the problems, and worse for everyone else.
Wall Street elites and the politicians they’ve bought off should be deathly afraid that this movement will spiral out of their control, precisely because that elite class has been so successful in separating themselves from everyone else in terms of wealth and power. There are so few truly wealthy Americans compared to so many middle class and poor that if it were only a matter of numbers, this thing would be over before it ever began.
Whereas the Tea Party “movement” concerned itself with electing Republicans in Washington to push forward a conservative agenda that they believed would solve all of their problems, OWS understands that the existence of the establishment itself is the problem. Cutting the ties between government and Big Business is one of the solutions. Holding criminals on Wall Street accountable no matter how rich and powerful they are is another. Maybe OWS can accomplish that.
Regardless, at least they actually tried.