As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests continue, it is being increasingly portrayed as a serious movement by several media outlets and politicians alike. Democratic politicians, at first skeptical of the movement, have lined up to attend and speak at rallies. They have been met, however, with mixed reception, as civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) discovered when he was denied the right to speak by the protesters at Occupy Atlanta. The Left has been looking for an answer to the Tea Party for several years and it seems they may have found it in Occupy Wall Street. Could this be the new base of the Democratic Party?
Despite their loud protests, OWS’ goals remain unclear to most everyone. Indeed, one comes to suspect that many participants themselves have little idea of what they want or believe, outside of vague support for far-left progressivism. Many in the movement are calling for drastic reforms to “the system” or for the overthrow of capitalism. Whether they represent the true message of the movement or lie on the fringe is questionable, but what we have seen so far is suggestive. After a few early encounters with the media, the Tea Party worked to ensure that objectionable messages were disassociated from the movement. So far Occupy Wall Street has not. Communist and anti-American slogans and symbols are frequently seen. Pictures of protesters defecating on police cars or being arrested in mass after blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge are unlikely to endear the movement to the American public.
In addition, complaints about government bailouts of Wall Street and crony capitalism abound at the protests. According to OWS, corporations and banks have so corrupted our political system that it is essential that we dramatically increase both the size and scope of government in order to combat the corruption. Yes, we are talking about the same “progressive” government run by an administration that received more campaign cash from Goldman Sachs executives than any other campaign in history and has featured a virtual revolving door between Wall Street executives and White House staff. The contradiction should be obvious to anyone who has not lost their ability to think clearly due to the incessant clattering of drum circles.
The problem is, of course, that a government actively involved in choosing the economy’s winners and losers is not so much open to, as invites, corruption. Lobbyists assist corporations in ensuring any government regulation is favorable to them. Government contracts are an almost certain route to profitability and regulations can be used by corporations to raise entrance barriers to smaller or less established competitors. Our hideously opaque tax code can be used to ensure loopholes favor the politically connected from General Motors to General Electric, not to mention the direct government supports in the form of stimulus or loans to politically favored green-job shams like Solyndra.
Increased government intervention in the economy will only boost incentives for the type of crony capitalism OWS protests. Rather than trying to enforce favored outcomes, the government should be concerned with allowing for an equal playing field – something achieved more successfully by staying out of the way than by intervention. Unfortunately, staying out of the way lines neither politicians’ nor K-Street lobbyists’ pockets.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned several related movements in North Carolina. Most notable of these is Occupy Raleigh which staged an attempted takeover of the State Capital grounds on the weekend of October 15. They have stated that their protests will continue indefinitely. I hope Gov. Bev Perdue enjoys her new neighbors. Given the rude behavior of other Occupy events in places such as Atlanta and New York City that seems unlikely, however. What she will do if the new Democratic base overstays their welcome is anyone’s guess; but it should make for interesting theatre.
This op-ed originally appeared in Wake Weekly and the Lincoln Tribune
Clark Riemer is an intern at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh (nccivitas.org)