Archive for October 20th, 2011

Tea Party vs. OWS

I found this diagram on politico.com, which linked it to this site, belonging to James Sinclair who writes:

Yeah, I’m oversimplifying, but only a little. The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they’re too busy insulting each other to notice.

Mr. Sinclair has a point — not only are the roots of both movements similar, but neither side really sees the true problem, it’s the nexus of corporate and government interests that create the most problems.    Therein lies the possibility of a true alternative to politics as usual.

This doesn’t mean a new third party or some rising independent candidate.   Rather, the two major parties have gotten into a rut.  When the economy was booming and it appeared the US was doing it right through deregulation and lower taxes, the parties got lazy.   Democrats like Bill Clinton embraced Wall Street and an economics team that was more laissez faire than even Reagan’s cohort.    To keep their ‘base’ the Democrats played interest group politics while pushing for programs like an overhaul of the health care system.   They didn’t get much accomplished on that front, but with the times good it didn’t matter.

The Republican party played similar games with social conservatives.  They gave lip service to issues like abortion and gay rights, but overall it was ineffective and just enough to keep the base in line.   So while the spectacle of intense partisan rancor filled the airwaves, the reality was that the two parties were becoming more alike than different.  Issues dear to social conservatives were not prioritized by the GOP, and the Clinton Administration ended up partially dismantling rather than building up social welfare programs.

Perhaps because of the growing ideological convergence of the two parties politics turned to personal stuff.   Did Clinton (or Bush the Younger) evade service in Vietnam unfairly?   Clinton was impeached for nothing he did as President but for an affair with a younger intern.    The personal trumped the substantive in a politics that was more about illusion and spectacle than substance.

During all that time both government and private citizens fell into the debt trap, driven in part by illusions of wealth thanks to the dot com craze and the real estate bubble.  The hypnosis of consumerism blinded people to the decay right before our eyes.   Day trading, flipping real estate and get rich quick schemes trumped hard work and imagination.   But unemployment was low and the GDP rising.   What me worry?

As more money flowed into campaigns a nexus between big business and big government formed.   As the middle class eroded thanks to the decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service sector, only the bubble economy and cheap goods from China prevented people from grasping how their country was changing into something less democratic with leaders less accountable than before.   Then in 2007 the housing bubble burst, starting a period of economic stagnation which turned into crisis in September 2008.

Now the veil’s been lifted from our eyes.   Now we see the corruption on Wall Street, the scandals in government, the links between big money and the Administration, touching both Obama and Bush.   President Obama’s election came because people thought he represented change.   But fearing a revolt from the elites of Wall Street, he embraced the same advisors that worked for Clinton, and took a very establishment approach.

Campaigns now are more marketing than an exchange of ideas.  Candidates are packaged and speak in bland generalities.  They have to, because if they break from the script they might make a gaffe and have it spread until it destroys their candidacy.    Spectacle over substance; illusion over reality.   Talk radio peddles emotion over reason, demonizing and mocking rather than engaging in real political discourse.   Politics becomes a “contact sport,” where one chooses a team and gets into the game, or one takes the view of Dennis DeYoung in his song “I don’t believe in Anything”:

I hate the bloody liberals and the neo-cons, they’re all so full of shit
Oh the way they talk to us, I think they think we’re idiots
What a bunch of hypocrits! 

Obama’s approval ratings are low, but those of Congress are far lower.    We’re in crisis and our political system is unable to respond.   20th Century thinking doesn’t cut it, the bubble years are over, so now what?

Now we have the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street representing two different movements driven by similar concerns.   The Tea Party has lost some of its luster, and no doubt that will happen to OWS as well.   But the two movements signify a desire of the electorate to change the nature of politics in the US.   It should be closer to the people, less bureaucratic, less in service of big corporate interests, and more respectful to average citizens.   Take away the fringe social conservatives on the right and socialists on the left, and you have a broad range of agreement between the two groups.

The agreement is this: big money and big government have gotten too cozy with each other and have too much power.   The only way to counter this is not to dismantle the corporate world and introduce socialism, nor to dismantle government with faith that markets can work magically.    The answer is to increase accountability at all levels by making both government and business decision making transparent.    We need to decentralize power – both governmental and in the private sector.

There will still be fights about proper tax rates, social welfare programs, abortion, gay marriage and all that.   But the potential for agreement on the need to restructure our socio-economic-political system is real.   The left needs to stop defending governments at every turn, the right needs to stop defending big money.   When power is concentrated it is always dangerous, whether in the form of a private corporation or a state.

We have the technology to decentralize and force greater transparency.   One aspect of both the Tea Party and OWS is their ability to use social media to build their movement and get the message out.   The partnership between big government and big money needs to be derailed.  Now if the activists on each “side” can put aside their differences long enough to focus on what they agree upon, maybe both movements can be a force for positive change.

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