RALEIGH – It was unfair, unethical, and unwise to use taxpayer dollars to bail out banks, insurers, auto companies, and other large corporations. Check.
Many young Americans have, with the complicity of unscrupulous lenders and colleges, run up huge student-loan debts that they can’t afford. Check.
Special-interest groups and self-serving politicians wield inordinate influence over governmental decisions in Washington, Raleigh, and many local communities. Check.
If these are the sincere concerns of the Occupy movement in New York, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and other cities, perhaps I should sign up. I’ve shared these concerns for many years, as have my colleagues at the John Locke Foundation and like-minded conservatives and libertarians across North Carolina and the nation.
But several issues hold me back. For starters, there’s that word “occupy.” Some leaders of the movement freely use the term “occupation” to describe not just their protests on public property but also their larger agenda of bringing corporate America to heel. If you occupy something that doesn’t belong to you, you are trespassing and stealing. This doesn’t exactly have the ring of persuasive expression and electoral participation to me.
Then there’s all this talk of the “1% vs. the 99%.” To suggest that 99 percent of Americans have the same views, the same interests, and the same agenda is not only preposterous but creepily reminiscent of the rhetoric of past autocrats who won 99 percent of the vote in fake elections and claimed universal support for radical social movements that had few true adherents.
Finally, there’s the actual agenda of the Occupy movement. Once you pierce its artifice of ambiguity, you find the usual left-wing tropes. Protesters insist on the right to the fruits of other people’s labor – not the right to trade their own labor for food, clothing, shelter, and health care but the right to take what they want. They insist that corporate executives, employees, and shareholders have no constitutional rights to freedom of speech or petition, and can thus be muzzled by the Bolshe… sorry, I mean the “99 percenters.”
In short, the Occupy movement is little more than a new name for an old, discredited brand of radical politics. It is about rage, hatred, envy, and larceny, not liberty, respect, and equal treatment under the law. It is a manifestation of the hard Left’s ongoing attempts to mask an unpopular agenda with populist appeals.
That having been said, there are legitimate grievances being expressed at Occupy rallies. Crony capitalism is a serious problem. Enticing young people to borrow heavily to finance college educations that don’t really boost their earnings potential is a serious problem. While I’m not so credulous as to believe that those organizing the protests are anything other than committed statists, I believe that their intended audience – the worried, frustrated public – can be persuaded to accept real solutions over phony ones.
Take crony capitalism. The Tea Party movement arose in large measure as a response to the 2008-09 bailouts of Wall Street bankers and other industries. Its message was pro-capitalist and anti-crony – no more bailouts, no more special favors. But the Occupy movement is really anti-capitalist and pro-crony. Their beef is that their favored cronies – the Solyndras and General Electrics trying to make money in green energy, for example – aren’t getting bailed out enough.
The gap between rhetoric and reality in the Occupy movement is already evident. At the Occupy Charlotte site, for example, an initial rally of several hundred soon shrunk to a group of about 50 protesters camped on public property. When a WBTV crew approached the wary group for an interview, a representative explained that the protesters were “a little disappointed with some things that happened out here between some of the media outlets and stuff. Seems like some people tromped through some of their property and were a little bit forceful in the questions they asked.”
When the TV crew reminded him that the Occupy Charlotte movement was taking place on public property, he said the protestors still deserved to get some sleep.
Fair enough. To live in a dream world, one must first go to sleep.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.