Well known Connecticut-based investment guru PETER SCHIFF went down to Zucotti Park in New York to talk to some of the assembled crowd of Wall Street Occupiers, apparently to talk to them about what’s “fair” and what a guy like him should pay to the government.
Trying to get a straight answer in a noisy crowd isn’t easy when half a dozen people are talking no one comes off very well in this. At one point, Schiff tells one woman (who is apparently in the mortgage business), “I employ 150 people, how many do you employ?”
To begin with, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Schiff went down there to find out anything, but instead went down there on a mission. His mission: To prove, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I am so tired of this kind of arrogance, and have to wonder what planet some of these media people and people like Mr. Schiff (who rarely associates with the “peasantry”) actually live on.
For an investment person, whose success depends on long-term planning and patience, is he actually going to claim frustration after five weeks that things haven’t coalesced quickly enough around a unified message to satisfy some sort of short attention span addiction? It took the tea party two years to get candidates elected, and they had massive amounts of money and help from smart political operatives who knew how to use the system –to their advantage, of course, and ultimately, to the citizen tea partiers’ disadvantage (they’ve since been discarded now that their populism is no longer needed by the power brokers).
It appears that Mr. Schiff doesn’t get it. It doesn’t help that he’s talking to people who can’t seem to express what he needs to get, but he comes off as elitist, unempathetic and far removed from the concerns of these “little people” on main street, where once again, the latest poll shows what is ultimately at the core of these protests. The protesters may not have codified it into a unified message –kinda hard to do with hundreds and hundreds of protests both nationwide and around the globe, but ultimately, these protests are not about money, who makes it, how much, or who pays what in taxes. It’s about people feeling cut off, who no longer feel they have a way to redress their grievances. They no longer feel they’re represented in the councils of government. They don’t think their vote counts. They think the people they’ve elected to represent them spend more time representing that so-called one percent –the rich, powerful special interests who have the money to buy and sell any lawmaker at the drop of a hat. If Mr. Schiff and I vote, and with his vote, he sends a $100,000 check to his favorite candidate, who do you think will get greater attention?
Corporations and wealthy people should be allowed to operate and make money, but they should have no more influence on the machinery of Washington than we have. They’re welcome to be heard, as any citizen is; they’re not welcome to buy more access than me just because they make more money than I do.
That’s why people are protesting, and if that doesn’t resonate with Mr. Schiff, if he can’t figure out that the country is awash in this kind of resentful sentiment, then maybe it’s because he needs to be asked if his real problem with the protesters is that he’s an investment guru whose living depends on the very institutions that have raked the country over the coals, which might be one reason why protesters and tea partiers, and a heckuva lot of other Americans as so damned ticked off. Schiff might be an investment guru, but as a human being, he seems sorely lacking in empathy.
What’s funny is to watch how some conservatives –the very same ones who support the tea party– engage in precisely the kind of narrow-casting denigration that liberals engaged in when the tea party began to form. I’ve been to Occupier rallies. I’ve spoken to people in their 20s and in their 60s. They’re from all kinds of walks of life. Yet, critics buy into the lazy media narrative that these protesters are all kids –invocations of hippies and Woodstock abound– and that they’re all unemployed 20-something slackers or –one of the more recent stupidities– that theyu’re anti-Semites delivering the old “Jewish Banker” ad hominem.
If you are someone who supports the tea party and you’re positing those kinds of criticisms, you’re a disingenuous hypocrite who is doing exactly what the liberals did to the tea party. (Though it’s interesting that we’ll denigrate 20-somethings until we find one that fits what we agree with, even if he’s homeless.)
Should I totally discredit the tea party because racists showed up at their rallies, and members of the Nazi party showed up at their rallies? (As they are doing now at the occupy rallies.) Liberals tried to do that, and it took tea partiers over a year to finally notify protesters they could not bring offensive signs to those events. But when you attend their rallies and talk to them as neighbors (which I did), it’s clear the vast majority are nothing like that, and that they’ve been characterized by politically polarized individuals.
The same phony narrative that developed back then is the same one that’s swirling now among this nascent movement, and using terms like “mini-Woodstock” in a denigrating fashion because some people want to portray the protesters as hippies (because its a useful pejorative), does not help. These people are protesting against their government –that’s never a bad thing, and it’s sad to see that the same rhetorical tricks used against the tea party that conservatives likely would’ve objected to are being used by them now just because of some political perception.
More than once I’ve heard these protesters invite tea partiers to join them. They should. There may be varying levels of disagreement on some issues but not on the much larger point: Your government isn’t listening, and in fact, tea partiers and occupiers probably have far more in common with each other than they do with the political officials they voted for. And the Republicans and Democrats in office have far more in common with each other than they do with the people who voted for them. That’s a pretty good building block of commonality right there, and imagine the fright in the eyes of the politicos, the pundits, their lobbyist friends and big money benefactors were tea partiers and occupiers to unite in protest on things they have in common.
If the tea party didn’t have the help of political operatives like Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity and funding from the Koch Brothers, they’d still be screaming at town halls. Protesting IS using the system. Its enshrined in our Constitution. It’s a way to get a message out, and the occupier message has now gone worldwide. Is the message clear and crystallized? Maybe not yet. But look at all the problems we have. Where do you want to start? We’re in a massive mess that will take a decade to sort out. What unified message effectively addresses them all? Granted, if the Occupy movement is to go somewhere, it will have to figure out a way to do the same things the tea party did: Local politics, candidates on the ballot, representation in office. That may happen in two years, it may not. I hope it does; Washington needs all the shaking up we citizens can give it.
But if you truly believe there’s nothing –not a single thing– these protesters have in common with the vast majority of Americans, including the tea partiers, then, as Franklin once said, you will get the government you deserve. In fact, many people feel you’re already getting it.
In the comments section below, the initial comment by Mark Campbell is worth a read. Because of quirks in the comments software (that sometimes have to do with widgets in Facebook, Yahoo, or wherever else one registers to comment), some comments disappear, appear twice, or are garbled. I wanted to respond to Mark but the comment kept disappearing, so Mark, given you were the first to comment, thanks for doing so; let me respond here:
I would argue that while people can be victims of their own circumstance, there’s a lot they don’t control, and that lends itself to your point about those with access to power who can buy and sell lawmakers like penny candy, and thus influence policy to the advantage of them and the disadvantage of many of us. I certainly don’t object to Mr Schiff making money… I don’t even care if company boards want to pay their CEOs obscene amounts of bonus money. That’s none of my business. I think those are easy things to stab at, and that low-hanging fruit is getting grabbed by a lot of these protesters.
But the larger issue is the access to these lawmakers, and really, that doesn’t mean the lobbyists. They just work for a living, but who hires them? That’s where the inequity lies, and I suspect that a lot of people don’t understand that. Witness the comments here from people denigrating the protesters with predictable ad hominems they picked up from the predictable right wing sources. I didn’t like that tea partiers were denigrated in this way –I suspect you didn’t either– but those who likely objected to that back then are the ones doing the denigrating now that the political shoe appears to be on the other ideological foot. That’s stupid and hypocritical.
I would argue that we should take the larger view of what these protests are really about and run with that. It’s not about corporations making profits, it’s not about taxation (which, granted, is a mess), it’s not about who has more money and who has less. It’s about who has more access to representative government who doesn’t. If you get beyond the videos and right wing media attempts to portray the protesters as nothing but hippies (a clearly effective propaganda effort for the mentally lazy and willfully misinformed –and that takes in an awful lot of Americans), you find there’s a lot of sensibility among some of these protesters with which most of us can relate. You expressed it yourself when you wrote “goodbye lobbyists.” We all know what that means and I’m willing to bet the majority of Americans would agree with that frustration (though, again: I don’t blame the lobbyists; it’s the people who pay them that concern me).
I feel the same way about the tea partiers and the way they were portrayed by the left. Yeah, the movement had their share of jerks –what large populist movement doesn’t? But to say they were all racists, or old ignorant white people, or all Obama bashers, and all the rest (OK, a lot of them bash Obama, but that’s not a problem for me) –well, that was categorically unfair. I don’t think we should’ve denigrated them any more than we should be denigrating today’s crop of protesters, though it’s awfully pathetic to see that role reversal take place: Tea partiers hated it back then when liberals did it. Liberals hate it now as tea partiers/conservatives are doing it. They’re both using each other’s tactics. What does that say about us? Do none of us get it? I can imagine powerful people in unseen places laughing at all of us citizens for tearing at each others’ throats when we should be joining forces to take down where the true dysfunction lies: In Washington, and the corporate types who engage in and propagate the kind of crony capitalism that has brought us to where we are today.
I don’t know where the protest movement will go from here. It has clearly touched a nerve. It’s ignited fires around the globe. Deep down, if those citizens who don’t agree with them can get past their politics, past their prejudices, past their personal hypocrisies, they have to know that they do indeed have common ground with the larger issue that is a great source of our many problems in this country: Nobody is listening to us. The people we elected to represent us, aren’t. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me. They’re too busy taking care of the people dropping thousands of dollars into their campaign coffers. I don’t have $10 grand to do that, and if I did, I wouldn’t spend it on a politician. But if I didn’t spend it on a politician, I wouldn’t want him treating me any better than the voter who didn’t donate a dime because he couldn’t afford to buy a politician. He should be treated just as equally as I should, or as Peter Schiff should, or Soros or the Koch brothers or whoever. How much money one has does not change the fact that we’re all Americans and we all deserve an equal and fair share of representation in government. I’m not seeing that. Are you? Is anyone? Then why should we continue to tolerate it?