As a high school student back in Poland, Domestic Partner fomented rebellion.
The teacher in Charge of “Family Living in a Socialist Society” was giving a hygiene lecture.
TEACHER: One in three of the people in this school had a social disease.
DOMESTIC PARTNER: Does that figure include the faculty?
Then there was the time Pope John Paul was returning to the country for the first time since his investiture. DP organized the entire class to get up from their seats and stand at attention at the exact time the Pontiff was scheduled to land.
The time came, everyone in the class stood but DP and the son of a local Party apparatchik.
Everyone glared at her.
“What do you want, I’m Jewish?”
Still rebellion was not revolution.
DP’s father, a Jew in a country with no Jews, and a capitalist in a country with no capitalists, ran the local shoe store, known locally as “The Jew Store.” An end to oppression meant the end to her father’s real business, which was trading in foreign currency, of which her dad was the leading smuggler in Galitzia.
“Walesa” said DP, “what a fool. Do you know how many members of the Polish Electricians’ Union it takes to change a light bulb?
DP was incensed about Gatemouth and Occupy Wall Street:
“Gatemouth, they robbed you; they robbed me; they robbed your son; they robbed your parents and thus your inheritance. Don’t you see; there’s going to be revolution? I know from revolution. Everyone laughed at Walesa, the schmuck. But a bunch of smart Jews like Michnik made him a hero, and down it all came. And that is what is happening here and you’re missing it all”
And sure enough, Walesa, who brought an end to communism as we knew it, has now endorsed OSW, a movement in which those calling for communism’s restoration play a prominent role.
I’ve even been harshly critical of the arrogance of the Wall Street Democrats, whose job has traditionally been to sell Wall Street on the necessity of accepting regulation and remediation, while trying to dilute both.
When Wall Street went full force against benefactors like Carolyn Maloney (directly) and Chuck Schumer (by proxy), it was clear it had lost all sense of rational self-preservation.
But there’s been no political punishment.
Yes, Congress passed Dodd-Frank (thanks to the filibuster, in watered down form), but the GOP has successfully used the filibuster to keep the agency in charge of its implementation unstaffed.
And there’ve been no consequences, except dissatisfaction with Obama.
There’ve been no legal consequences either.
How could there be?
The real scandal isn’t the occasional illegality which undoubtedly took place now and then.
The scandal is that almost all of it was legal!
And now, Wall Street is objecting to even the minimal corrective reforms we’ve since enacted.
Meanwhile, let’s talk a minute about those Wall Street Dems.
Reshma Saujani, spent barrels of Wall Street cash punishing Wall Street Dem Carolyn Maloney for having the temerity to say to Wall Street, “only this much and no more” (I’d print all my other Saujani links, but there are only so many hours in the day).
Saujani got repudiated and humiliated, with a mere 19% of the vote, less than the percentage normally received by dead dogs, despite all the money and press attention she had generated.
The joke candidate running against Gary Ackerman on a shoe string got 31% without spending a dime or getting any notice in the press.
But, thanks to her Wall Street bucks, Saujani was not treated as the joke she was. She was named as one of City Hall News’ “Forty Under Forty,” and was given a job by supposed “progressive” Bill DeBlasio. And I’ve complained about it every step of the way.
In others words, I’ve been pretty unrelenting in calling for reform and better regulation of Wall Street.
So, I feel I have standing to comment upon the intellectual bankruptcy of Occupy Wall Street.
But some have been critical of my writing on the matter. Even those I do not sleep with.
CANDACE: One of the rare occasions on which I disagree with you, Gate. I thought Todd Gitlin's Sunday Op Ed was way closer to the mark.
GATE: I dunno --I oppose new settlement in the occupied territories and favor a Palestinian state, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna join the "Palestine Free from Sea to Sea" people--"reform the system" and "Blow up the system" are not the same side, no matter how much we delude ourselves
CANDACE: Ummm, I think there's a bit of difference between folks who are - or are closely allied with - people who have access to - and use - serious weaponry to perpetrate terrorism, on the one the hand, and peaceful folks from a long tradition of assembly for purposes of protest/successful liberal democracy, on the other.
That may be quite unfair to the Palestinains (do I know enough/do they have a choice/etc.), but it isn't an inaccurate description of the OWSers.
Liberal protest movements use overblown rhetoric. So what?
GATE: You really think this is a liberal movement?
The two main currents seem to be Marxist or anarchist/Quaker/Hippie.
I don't see anyone crusading for full implementation of Dodd/Frank and passage of the latest stimulus bill.
SAM: You always criticize progressives for hurting the party and aiding Republicans by rejecting Democractic candidates (Weprin, Obama) or achievements (healthcare) for somehow being insufficiently progressive. I tend to agree with you.
Despite it's fringe elements (and it should be noted that they are not necessarily a majority of the protestors, even if they seem to be in charge),
OWS is the best chance the left has for bringing grassroots energy into the Democratic Party in the way the Tea Party did for the GOP. The article you've quoted makes sweeping generalizations about the protesters.
The only thing you can say about the protesters as a whole is that they are anti-Wall Street. If we allow quibbles over the specifics to overshadow the larger point, all we end up doing is helping the Wall Street and the Republicans. Sound familiar?
GATE: No--the difference between "reform capitalism" and "destroy capitalism" is unbridgeable. I see little evidence that OWS is anything but the fringe. I would not sooner join with them, than to go to an anti-war demonstration organized by ANSWER.
SAM Nancy Pelosi, the DCCC, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (as well as the TWU and SEIU) all beg to differ.
GATE: the progressive caucus--with its fingertips on the pulse of the American public
SAM: Sneer at the CPC all you want, but Nancy Pelosi? The DCCC? Even Obama had good things to say about it.
GATE: perhaps I'm missing the political expedience here, but analytically it's still a crock of shit
SAM: The political expedience is exactly what you're missing. In the same way that some on the left have complaints about Obama (or had about Weprin) that are analytically valid but politically counterproductive.
PAUL NEWELL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window
GATE: btw Paul, your principled refusal to stand up for the quality of life concerns of your constituents is quite admirable. [the local Councilwoman, Margaret Chin, a former Maoist, has refused to embrace Occupy Wall Street].
And please tell me exactly what idea these folks are standing for by refusing to let John Lewis speak?
This really reeks of the theory that the Woodstock festival was an organizational model for our society (I recommend reading Stanley Aronowitz's late wife on that matter. [repeat of the Palestine comment].
PAUL NEWELL: Gatey- Your comment is both factually incorrect regarding my position, and fails to respond to my argument. I have spoken extensively with people at OWS about noise concerns. I have brought other community members to do the same. OWSers really want to address the concerns, and have begun to. The biggest issue is really the drums (which both my statement and DID's criticize).
But this is the first movement I've seen in, well I don't know how long, that has refocused the debate on economic inequality. And that is very important right now. Obama’s Unlikely Anarchist Friends.
GATE: interesting that you seemed to miss the post by the same author I linked yesterday: Steve Jobs, Occupy Wall Street, and the Capitalist Ideal.
NEWELL: Per usual, a well reasoned, well written piece from Chait that I agree with. How does this change the Overton Window and change in discursive focus points in the piece I posted? This is a good thing for us, even if we don't agree with all of it.
GATE: Sam, I really wonder about the expedience. Certainly the people there don't want our company. John Lewis' experience tells you everything you need to know about the compatibility of OWS and even the most liberal end of liberalism
NEWELL: Still haven't heard a response on the overton window...
GATE: I've never understood Overton’s window
NEWELL: Or another example in the last 40 years of when the discourse focused on economic inequality... Or how this hurts Democrats...
GATE: so, if I am to understand Overton's Window as embraced by the left, it is wrong for me to oppose the torture of Gilad Shalit, or the rhetoric that the Jews should be driven into the sea, because that will ultimately help lead to a Palestinian state, which I favor? Do I have that right?
NEWELL: No, Gatemouth, you don't have that right. When a third of the country thinks Obama is a socialist and raising marginal income tax rates 3% is confiscatory statism, it can't hurt for the country to see that there are other theoretical options out there.
GATE: ANSWER does not hold views slightly to my left unless I've morphed into Stalin, and no, I would not join one of their marches.
NEWELL: a) OWS is not ANSWER. I've barely seen any foreign policy stuff there at all, in fact.
GATE: no, I think Stalinist is inaccurate in describing ANSWER only to the extent that Maoist might be more accurate. Further, peaceful protest which advocates totalitarian positions or terrorism is fair game to be compared with what it advocates.
I must say, the essential point made by Chait in the article linked by Newell is undeniable:
The Occupy Wall Street protests, for their part, shine a spotlight on an industry that has attracted mass disgust yet escaped accountability. Almost everybody hates Wall Street, but the anger at Wall Street was deflected to the financial bailout, and thereby (even though it preceded him) to Obama. In a development that may have appeared shocking three years ago, Wall Street has resumed its place of privilege in Washington. Politicians are courting the financial industry, its barons speaking out with pre-crisis confidence. The Republican Party has openly pledged to kill the Dodd–Frank regulations.
The protests, for all this incoherence, restore Wall Street to a central place in the economic narrative. Here is the financial industry, not just as recipient of taxpayer funds but as originator and aggravator of the crisis. The protests may not have an agenda, but they do not need an agenda other than to return political focus onto Wall Street.
The larger role of the protests, should they continue, ought to be to reestablish the terms of the political debate. Historically, liberalism best succeeds when compared against a radical alternative. In the thirties and sixties, fear of extremism and mob violence made business elites eager to accept liberal compromise designed to preserve the system. Since 2009, the question of how to respond to the economy has been framed as a debate between meliorative liberalism and vicious reaction. In this climate, Wall Street has been howling about Obama’s mild verbal scolding of the industry, his plans to impose some measure of regulation upon it, and ever-so-slightly raise the tax levels of the very rich.
The protests can usefully re-center the debate. When Wall Street CEOs are expressing even tepid fear for their personal safety, terms like “class warfare” might start to be reserved for more stringent measures than the return of Clinton-era tax rates.
I can’t help but agree. The point is echoed in the piece linked by Sam:
In that way, liberals and the left have always had a complicated, symbiotic relationship. Franklin Roosevelt disdained Huey Long’s Share the Wealth movement and was probably not excited about armed farmers preventing foreclosures or about striking workers. But unlike Herbert Hoover, who turned to Douglas MacArthur to drive the Bonus Marchers out of Washington, Roosevelt responded to these pressures from below not with troops, but with positive legislation—indeed, it was precisely Roosevelt’s liberalism that inclined him to do so.
The movements saw it as their task to force Roosevelt’s hand; he, in turn, understood his mission as the transformation of their sometimes unreasonable demands into the great reforms of the Second New Deal. And that is how it was throughout the 20th century. Social security, the minimum wage, Medicare, environmental protection, the government’s commitment to civil and sexual equality—all these came out of liberalism’s interaction with the left.
Sometimes, liberals have hemmed and hawed about protests, pleading that things were complex and that change was too difficult. The left, on the other hand has sometimes dismissed liberals as tools of corporate capitalism. But this kind of suspicion and derision has not benefitted either side. Without liberalism, the left and its movements slip into extremism that ends up validating their harshest opponents. That happened in the 1920s when the Communists vied with the Socialists for leadership of the left; it happened again during the late 1960s when the New Left veered out of control. The converse is equally true: Without leftwing ferment from below, liberalism becomes powerless in the face of business and the organized right. That happened in the 1920s and the 1980s and in the early part of this century—and it threatens to happen again now.
But even if these points are to be conceded, this does not mean liberals should embrace these protests, anymore than Roosevelt embraced Huey Long, rather than reacted to him, and then threw him and the Communists in Wall Street’s face to make them—or rather their liberal elements, like Bernard Baruch—acquiesce to his own less threatening agenda.
So yes, the protest may be a good thing for the Democrats. Let’s embrace the frustration, but not the particular actions, which are often preposterous. Let’s just lie back and enjoy them.
As Chait says today:
If the protests are to play a positive role, it will be in two ways: refocusing public attention on Wall Street, and recentering the political discourse. We have spent nearly three years in which the “left-wing” position in the political discourse has been held down by President Obama, a moderate technocrat. He needs something to counterpose his ideas against.
Ideally, Occupy Wall Street would organize itself around smart, progressive ideas that lack political support in Washington...No doubt some of its ideas will be radical or silly. Democrats shouldn’t embrace those ideas, but it is still possible for radical ideas to help by establishing a left-wing pole against which to gauge Obama’s moderate policies.
All this argues for a few general principles. Liberal organizations should support the movement and help push it in liberal (as opposed to radical) directions...Democrats should neither embrace nor condemn it, but treat it as an important message of popular discontent.
As to Gitlin’s article, he too makes a salient point: Movements that began in the sixties by looking like OSW helped end the Vietnam War.But, as Chait noted in the article I linked:
There is a long, grim history of left-wing movements being hijacked by their most radical elements, which are usually the most organized and fanatical.
Even Gitlin, acknowledges that SDS, which he once headed, degenerated into the crazoid “Progressive Labor” and the violent psychotic Weather Underground. It is a tragically sad story, rendered amusing only in John Sayles novel “Union Dues.”
SDS and others served a purpose as the vanguard of the anti-war movement, and we do owe them that. But, liberals were right in embracing the anti-war movement without embracing SDS.
I do not feel Occupy Wall Street is a bad thing in its possible impact. But I will not ignore that its substance is what it is, which is not much.
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