Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Impossible Dreams of Tea Partiers and Occupiers

Today Fareed Zakaria interviewed various ‘experts’ on how to get America back on its feet: the diagnosis was severe, but all his guests agreed that if we do the right things, America’s best days are ahead.  (Never mind that, according to Tom Friedman, we are not only behind China, but also Brazil... And never mind that the fault lies as much with the media as with government.)

Sadly, From what I’m reading about New York and witnessing in Philadelphia, the much hoped for movement on the left that could be the counterpart to the Tea Party, shows the same lack of ideological literacy. Both want to ‘take back America’, one focusing on bootstraps, the other on cumbaya. The Tea Party thinks we can return to the early days of the country, when almost anyone could get rich if he were shrewd. The Occupy Wall Street and Move to Amend (the Constitution) movements model their demands on the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing the right of the people to be heard, but failing to mention the right to overthrow a government that doesn’t hear them.

With different emphases, both movements are about preserving a three hundred year old ‘liberal’ system.  The Tea Party sees solidarity as individual subordination to ‘the state’, urging competition and personal responsibility; the Occupiers also decry behemoth government, but  rather than calling for states ‘rights’ they favor decentralization, local power and cooperation. Both are out of synch with the rest of the world, which, starting more than a century ago, has tended to replace ‘liberalism’ with various forms of social democracy, based on cooperation and solidarity.

Pundits harp on the shortcomings of our system of education: not enough math and science (never mind that reading is at an abysmal level). Never do they mention the social sciences, the history, geography and economics of various governing systems. A pretty teenager at the occupation of Philadelphia’s City Hall held a sign that read: “Let’s Remain Focused and Not be Like The Tea Party”. I could not convince her that what made the Tea Party dangerous was precisely its ability to focus.

The suggested amendments to the Constitution and the list of grievances of the Occupy movement constitute a good start.  But to think that the present economic system can be reformed is as much a misconception as the one that led to Mikhail Gorbachev’s downfall. Believing the Soviet system could be reformed, he was ousted by Boris Yeltsin, who understood that it wasn’t meeting the needs of the people. But central planning was replaced in Russia and Eastern Europe by the American free market system instead of the social democratic systems that had brought prosperity to Northern and Western Europe, making them vulnerable when the financial bubble burst.

Unless the occupy movement accepts that it is indeed engaged in a mighty class war, it will be co-opted. Here’s an excerpt from Van Jones’ ‘Take Back the American Dream’ Conference of October 4th:

“A coalition of liberal organizations are planning to push for a liberal agenda and recruit progressive politicians at every level of government — with or without President Obama.

Taking hold of the momentum generated by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests occurring across the country, the liberal leaders have drafted plans to implement what they call an “American Autumn” — a realignment of American politics inspired by the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

Really? Do Robert Reich and Jan Schakowsky think we can solve our problems by bringing together various shades of liberalism, as opposed to the ‘messy’ mix of liberals, communists, socialists, sunnis, shi’as, salafists, copts and others who together are trying to overthrow their authoritarian/liberal regimes?

Thanks partly to the failure of our mainstream media to inform and enlighten, most of the participants in our protest movements do not know that even when the European right governs, it cannot eliminate the gains made by working people in the last century. The demonstrations in Europe are presented as betrayals of the liberal cause, requiring IMF style austerity measures. But Europe’s financial crisis follows on the siren’s call of deregulation in a script written by the United States. Our ‘occupy’ movement should emulate the people of Europe, by affirming the superiority of cooperation over competition and solidarity over profit. After all, even liberalism’s star performer Tom Friedman touts a public/private system, only he doesn’t call it social democracy - yet.

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