The American left is still shaken by the success of spontaneous conservative grass-roots participation in Tea Party activities leading up to the 2010 elections. In desperation, leftists now hope to profit from the Occupy Wall Street gatherings, which have spread to many other locations.
Haven’t the mainstream print and broadcast media, overwhelmingly liberal, given massive and sympathetic coverage to the occupiers? Isn’t this a good way to build enthusiasm among the base the left needs to win the 2012 elections?
Probably not, even though Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, many extremist labor unions, the Socialist Party USA, the Communist Party USA and others on the left are singing praises of the current demonstrators. So many want to lead the occupiers.
One week after the Occupy Wall Street protesters first gathered, the New York Times ran an opinion article by Michael Kazin headlined, “Whatever Happened to the American Left?” offering his guidance in left-wing movement-building. He urged the demonstrators to focus on “demanding millions of new jobs that pay a livable wage.”
A fat lot of good that demand would do.
Creating new jobs requires creation of new wealth, something government has never been able to do. Government can and frequently does destroy jobs by interfering with wealth creation. At best, government can facilitate the creation of wealth (and jobs) by restricting its activity to protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, punishing fraud and deterring violence.
The idea of leftists “demanding millions of new jobs that pay a livable wage” reminds one of the famous “cargo cults” that sprang up in the South Pacific after World War II. Allied forces visited many remote islands during that war, built airstrips and flew in large quantities of goods needed in the war effort. Native islanders, unfamiliar with modern civilization, received some of those goods from Allied forces who wanted friendly relations with them.
After the war, the planes stopped coming. Some primitive islanders created cargo cults. They built crude replicas of airplanes and prayed to the replicas, hoping to receive additional free goods from the sky. As evidence of the persistence of human folly, a handful of the cargo cults still survive, but most have faded away after generations of disappointment. Leftists demanding millions of new jobs from government will be similarly disappointed.
For better or worse, though, the occupiers are too diverse to unite on a single demand. What attracts their current supporters, from top government officials to the avowed Marxists and Leninists, is their potential usefulness in promoting class warfare, an ancient and common thread that runs through the entire left. Maybe, somehow, the occupiers will build a great surge of hate, invigorate class warfare and help the left maintain and increase its power despite the growing public disapproval of President Obama and his allies.
And maybe not. We’ll see.
Right now, the protesters don’t seem to be winning public approval despite sympathetic news coverage stressing their “idealism.” My late father often said, “Anyone can get his name in the newspapers if he’s willing to take his pants off in public.” Many of the occupiers have done that and worse, which generates for them more contempt than admiration. The TV interviews with randomly selected occupiers are suitable to run only on comedy shows.
Before the current age of easy communication, every community had its village idiot, someone everyone knew couldn’t think straight. The local village idiot was pretty isolated and usually tolerated well, often with affection because of his affliction. “Poor fellow.”
Today, village idiots can find each other easily online, and sometimes they can gather in large numbers. Such gatherings are ugly, but they attract media attention, which attracts more idiots. Their idiocy, when it is directed toward leftist politics, may be ignored or soft-pedaled by the major news media, but the mainstream media have lost their former monopoly on mass communications.
Most Americans have easy access to conservative media’s broadcast, print and online communications, which widely expose the idiots’ wackiness and bad behavior.
Who but the willfully blind still approve of the occupiers’ protests and flights of fancy? Political linkage to these demonstrators will hurt, not help, candidates in the 2012 elections. But this doesn’t occur to those on the left, who are stuck in a rut with an outmoded worldview just when millions of conservative Americans have become newly activated as responsible political participants. The left cannot accept the increasingly obvious fact that big government is destroying jobs and bankrupting our country and its people.
Leftists are fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street protesters because, for generations, their organizing principle hasn’t changed. It was best stated in 1901 by future Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin in his newspaper Iskra (the Spark): “Our task is to utilize every manifestation of discontent and to gather and turn to the best account every protest, however small. … Concentrate all droplets of popular resentment. Combine all these streamlets into a single gigantic torrent.”
More recently, Saul Alinsky taught much the same thing to many who now cannot resist applauding the occupiers.
That old strategy won’t work in America today. Most experienced political analysts predict that Mr. Obama cannot be re-elected unless our national economy improves dramatically before November 2012.
More government can’t generate the growth necessary to save the left in next year’s election. Even if it could, the current Congress would defeat any major attempts to increase government spending and government control of the economy.
The ironic fact is that the Occupy Wall Street protesters will, to the extent that they vilify profits and shame and frighten employers and prospective employers, discourage private investment in new activity, which alone can create new jobs. By linking himself and his allies to these protests, Mr. Obama is scaring job creators and damaging his chance of re-election, not building his base of support. Fortunately, there aren’t enough idiots out there.
Morton C. Blackwell is president of the Leadership Institute and the national committeeman of the Republican Party of Virginia.