In the recent Republican Party round table in Iowa, hosted by Christian fundamentalists for Christian fundamentalists, the newly resurgent but ever-repulsive Newt Gingrich told the Occupy Wall Street protesters to “get a job,” right after they “take a bath.” In today’s Daily Commercial, Cal Thomas, fresh on the heels of endorsing Gingrich by downplaying his lucrative lobbying gig with Freddie Mac, elaborated further on the same, pathetically disingenuous themes. The objective, of course, is to demonize the protesters and to discredit them by any means possible. The fact that, in our republican form of government, power is theoretically derived from the people bothers the corporate oligarchy not one bit. Thomas and Gingrich are each, in their own revolting ways, mere shills for that oligarchy.
For those who missed it, the message is by now familiar: The protesters are lazy good-for-nothings who expect society to take care of them for the rest of their lives; they envy the “wealth creators” who have earned their success through hard work; and they are filthy, ignorant specimens who pose a health hazard to the rest of society. According to Thomas, the United States is a country that “still rewards hard work, personal responsibility, and accountability,” for which he is duly thankful. He also offered us a potted lecture in economics, asserting that “[t]here is not a single pie from which all must eat. Instead, life contains a recipe everyone can follow to make pies for themselves.”
I would laugh, but there’s really nothing funny about the ugliness of these lies and myths. So let’s try to redress the balance a little by injecting some truths that the right wing doesn’t want us to know.
First, because it is fundamental here, let us address the issue of economics. When a national economy is not growing, it is not at all inaccurate to think of it as a static pie, from which each citizen is allotted a slice. And even though the economy generally grows at an average long-run rate of around 2% per year, the last three decades have seen almost all of that growth in national income go to the people at the top. Thus, for the majority of Americans – the 99%, if you will – the economic pie is static even in the presence of growth. And the central thrust of the Occupy movement is the exposure of the ugly fact that in modern America, wealth and income have become outrageously concentrated in the hands of the few.
Contrary to Thomas’s Horatio Alger version of history, many of these few – not all – “earned” their wealth from predatory capitalism that exploits the politically powerless in far-flung corners of our global economy, despoils the environment for future generations as yet unborn, and steals from consumers left exposed by convenient deregulation of financial markets. These few control our politicians, they control our corporate-owned media, and they control people like Newt Gingrich and Cal Thomas. The fortunate few are used to having their cake and eating it, and they’re not interested in sharing with anyone else – even though their failure to do so actually threatens their long-term prospects for both financial prosperity and social power.
With wealth and income distributions that have not been seen since the 1920’s (a red flag in a rational polity, one would think), and which resemble conditions in the more depressing regions of Latin America and Africa, the only mystery here is how the American people have been bamboozled into accepting this for so long. Part of the answer lies in the culture of consumerism, on orgiastic display on this Black Friday, and so carefully inculcated by corporate America over our entire lifetimes. It is with very good reason that the Occupy protesters have turned their attention to this national distraction with rallies at mega-malls and big-box retailers all across the country.
The observable wisdom of the protesters returns us to the issue of their character. After all, the oligarchy must have multiple lines of attack here. They know better than anyone just how bogus the economic argument is, and realize that character assassination is a reliable tactic – especially when you own the media and control the discourse. But any impartial citizen who takes the time to actually listen to these young people cannot fail but be impressed by their remarkable intelligence, articulacy, and grasp of the issues. Frankly, I didn’t think America’s youth had this in them, and I have been very pleasantly surprised. There may actually be hope for us yet!
Thomas’s charge that the protesters are envious and lazy is completely inaccurate. They are complaining about a genuine lack of economic opportunity and prospects in the wake of a near-calamitous financial meltdown. Unemployment is stuck near 10%, and is much higher when under-employment and discouraged workers (i.e. people who have simply given up and dropped out of the labor force) are factored in. Students are saddled with astronomical debt loads yet see their expensive educations gaining them no traction in a labor market that has no place for them, leaving them to struggle in debt peonage. They don’t want a government check; they want meaningful employment that offers them a realistic shot at what we used to call the American Dream.
The right-wing media’s deliberate exaggeration of public-hygiene issues is nothing more than a dirty trick and should be heavily discounted. There will always be problems in large groups of people. But, on the whole, the protesters have behaved with remarkable decency in the face of intense and sometimes unnecessarily brutal treatment from the police. More to the point, why are we talking about a few homeless people urinating in public parks (hardly a new phenomenon in New York City) when, if you’ll forgive the graphic expression, the financial services industry has just taken a dump all over America? What matters more – a few extra bags of trash for the sanitation department or uncountable volumes of toxic mortgage assets polluting the global financial system? Oh, right! We’re not supposed to be talking about that, are we?
And that brings us to the most galling element of Thomas’s jeremiad – the claim that the United States still values accountability. How anyone who even pretends to possess a smidgen of intellectual integrity can make such a claim against a backdrop of systemic, long-term financial fraud, on a scale never seen before in human economic history, continues to disgust and amaze me. The only financiers who have been held accountable are the ones – like Bernie Madoff – who were stupid enough to steal from the rich. All the rest, who organized, participated in, or abetted, mortgage or financial derivatives fraud against ordinary people the world over, continue to enjoy much the same privileged life as before. But the fact that so many mainstream media commentators can get away with such extraordinary distortions of reality is symptomatic of the extent to which the corporate oligarchy has taken control of our society.
America responded to the last great collapse of capitalism with the New Deal. Back then, the oligarchy was just smart enough to realize that it had to reform itself to survive, and it chose an American aristocrat to do it. But today, the oligarchy pays no price for the most heinous crimes. Instead of reforming Wall Street by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and overturning the Commodity Futures Trading Act, the government bails out the banks that have become “too big to fail” and, within little more than a year, it’s back to business – and profits – as usual.
What this really means, unfortunately, is that the only way to dislodge the oligarchy’s grasp from our throats is to either suffer through a total economic collapse that forces the creation of a new order, or to rise against them in a popular revolt. If the oligarchy had any foresight at all, they would seek to avert both of these alternatives by agreeing, albeit reluctantly, to genuine social change. But, in a country where accountability and responsibility mean absolutely nothing, that isn’t going to happen. The inevitable disruptions, whichever form they take, will be partly attributable to media shills like Cal Thomas who fought for the wrong side. I trust he is ready to take responsibility for his actions. I know I’m ready to hold him accountable.