The shaggy soldiers of Occupy Wall Street have ignited simpatico protests in 900 cities four weeks after it began as an illegal sleepover in a privately owned park near Wall Street.
But what is it, really, that unites these unwashed and miffed masses? Envy. The Occupiers -- OWS is a fitting label for them, for they profess to be in great pain -- want government to hand to them the comforts that the rest of us worked so hard to earn.
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Take on too much college debt? Government should forgive it! Fall behind in payments on a home you were reckless to buy in the first place? Force the banks to wipe out the loans! Waste time getting a Ph.D in 17th century Russian literature in an economy that needs engineers? Cap professional salaries!
Envy. It is a most un-American sentiment of the self-pitying, the self-entitled and the self-serving. In our bones, we Americans -- the real “other 99%” these indolent, bongo-playing hangerson purport to represent -- don’t resent other people’s success. We are inspired by it, because we have an inbred belief that with hard work we, too, can attain what others have attained.
Or, at least, we try to be that way.
That is why Democrats and President Obama embrace Occupy Wall Street at their peril. America blames Washington far more for our economic crisis than it blames an admittedly culpable Wall Street. And now the protestors are ticking us off.
A Gallup/USA Today poll out today paints it succinctly: Only 30% of us say Wall Street is more to blame than government for the dormant economy; 64% say Washington is the bigger cause.
You can see how silly a lot of this OWS stuff is in this YouTube video of the aimless, inarticulate protesters in Minneapolis.
In New York, cold weather will take care of all of this. Smoking doobies, chatting up women in halter tops, banging the tambourine to Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 anthem “For What It’s Worth” ( “FWIW” to the texters in Zucotti Park) -- all of that isn’t nearly as much fun at 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the meantime, the occupiers would do well to get their story straight. A few pointers:
---It’s disrespectful to compare yourselves to the courageous Arab Spring uprising, the protests against the Vietnam War, the civil rights marches of Martin Luther King. You’re pouting because you don’t have a job and I make more money than you. Ain’t quite as noble a cause, y’know?
---You’re upset the top 1% of earners don’t pay their “fair share.” Bunk. In 2011, households at $50,000 income will pay an average federal tax rate of 6.8% vs. 25% for those over $1 million, says the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Plus, the top 1% gets 19% of income yet pays 40% of federal income tax, while the bottom 45% pays zero (but collected Obama’s tax rebates). And 45% of households get some form of direct government assistance. Now that sounds unfair.
---Your focus on tax revenues is wrongheaded. The key problem is overspending. For decades federal spending ran at 20% of GDP; in the Age of Obama it is at 26%. George W. Bush was the most fiscally irresponsible President in history -- until Bam’s binge. Bush increased the national debt by $1.6 billion per day, compared with $4.1 billion per day since Obama took office.
---You decry the lack of criminal convictions of Wall Street scapegoats. But Wall Street was clueless, not criminal, it was reckless and stupid, not evil. And stupidity isn’t a crime, a happy fact for many of the clueless folks at OWS.
---You’re mad at the giant banks for their bailout. But let’s recall: The feds forced $200 billion in TARP money on 19 titans to unfreeze the global financial system. It worked -- and those 19 banks paid back ALL of it. At a profit to the government. Some $250 billion in TARP money went out to several hundred smaller banks that asked for it; three years later, over 200 haven’t paid it back, and the feds still own stakes in them. Be mad at them. And be mad at the bailout of GM and Chrysler -- we’re still $50 billion or more in the hole of that one.
---You’re upset that JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon makes a lot of money, so you marched on his home in Manhattan. Why didn’t you also descend on the home, a few blocks away, of billionaire George Soros? It only adds to the whispers that Soros, the unions and other rabblerousers are the invisible hand goosing this anti-capitalist backlash.
The Occupiers are so ill-informed and so utterly unfocused that they fail to see any irony or hypocrisy in their being cheered on by liberal millionaires who probably, in Obama’s view, aren’t paying their fair share, either. (Russell Simmons, Michael Moore, Kanye West: Are ya feelin’ me?)
That’s okay. The rest of America knows where the real problem lies and where the protestors should take their case. Next up: Maybe the tea party folks should stage their own kind of #OccupyWashington.
You can follow me on Twitter: @denniskneale
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