The conservative movement in America may have been had. #OWS is easy to attack, but the right’s demonization of #OWS, even if successful, may be playing into Obama’s hands by failing to address the real reason why the Democrats and their special interest allies have cultivated this movement.
The Financial Times provides the final piece of the puzzle, noting that Obama has chosen an FDR-style strategy of campaigning against the wealthy. Brookings historian William Galston, who has been researching the similarities between the Obama 2012 and Roosevelt 1936 campaigns and analyzing speeches from both, found numerous parallels surrounding a common strategy: running on attacks against the wealthy and corporations:
“Roosevelt wasn’t just saying: ‘I am fighting for you.’ It was: ‘I am fighting against them.’”
Critics of #OWS may be targeting the patsies rather than the true threat. #OWS is run by the usual Mos Eisley Cantina of far-left groups, so of course there will be plenty of extremism, criminality, anti-semitism, and generally disgusting behavior to point out. The right predictably adopted the same Alinskyite strategies that the left used to demonize the Tea Party, and by extension, those politicians associated with it – point out extremist connections, generalize from offensive signs and bigoted statements, accuse them of being astroturfed, and condemn them as dangerous due to violent rhetoric. Rightist critics will have virtually-endless ammunition on these points, because it is the nature of the extreme #OWS coalition to provide it, and its opponents will not relent due to an understandable but emotionally-charged urge to pay the left back in kind for their campaigns against the Tea Party.
While conservatives can demonize #OWS and try (despite MSM resistance) to harm Democratic politicians’ electoral chances through their association with the movement, this is a hit the Democrats can afford to take, because all the while, #OWS is serving its true purpose:
Changing the subject.
Van Jones, Richard Trumka, and the rest of Obama’s far-left allies propping up #OWS aren’t stupid. Neither is the National Federation of Teachers, the union from whose office space #OWS is operated . They are successfully reframing the debate over the economy to be about the rich vs the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if people think they’re crazy – it matters that people internalize the 99% vs. 1% way of thinking and begin hearing and talking about statistics concerning income inequality in America.
“The rich” and big corporations are deeply unpopular, and by turning Democrat vs. Republican into the common people vs. the corporate fat cats, Democrats can win elections. The discussion is no longer the national debt, no longer the president’s sorry stewardship of the economy. Instead, the topic of the day is inequality and class. The right may defeat #OWS, but without addressing this problem, Obama and his allies will have accomplished their objectives.
Before the backdrop of war and economic ruin, the Democrats are resurrecting the social forces of the analogously-situated interwar period to win elections by railing against bankers, the wealthy, and the perils of free and competitive markets, as well as promoting the utopian idea that experts and intellectuals can centrally manage society. From these forces, communism and Fascism rose and spread, and while I have more faith in America than to believe that they could ever get particularly far today (to out credit, it didn’t even get that far back then), it is important to remember where this path led, and what Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign was about.
FDR arose from some of the same forces that created the authoritarian socialist regimes of the time, but lionized as he is, many forget that Roosevelt towed a line better described as between the trendy Communist and Fascist ideologies of the world at that time, rather than standing in diametric opposition. Though far more benign than so many leaders of his day, Roosevelt was a tyrant by modern American standards.
When Roosevelt was running for reelection in 1936, he has already passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), an unconstitutional command economy policy similar to and arguably based on Mussolini’s fascist economics. The NIRA was designed to encourage a centrally-planned economy in which (unionized) government-business cartels would run the economy, setting prices, wages, working conditions, and other policies to avoid the supposed negative effects of cutthroat competition. Those who did not comply were portrayed by state officials as akin to traitors, and not permitted to bear the blue eagle marking that identified state-approved products. Roosevelt had also intimidated the Supreme Court into allowing him to enact unconstitutional polices by threatening to set a precedent that would permanently end its ability to reign in unconstitutional excesses from the other branches. He opposed anti-lynching laws after even Virginia had passed them. Later, he would go on to ignore the Holocaust (and turn back its refugees) while rounding up an entire ethnicity of Americans and imprisoning them in internment camps.
The Democrats are playing with fire, recklessly bringing fringe elements into the mainstream. They have cultivated a nationwide Anarcho-Socialist movement that has rallied Communists, Nazis, and other far-left extremists, some potentially violent, to a unified banner – and fully intend to double-cross them. In reality, there will be no dismantling of hierarchy, merely more government spending to buy votes with money confiscated from other voters or borrowed from China. There will be no dismantling of corporate power, though perhaps there will be some transfer of power from big business to equally self-interested big labor, or from some businesses to others that are closely tied to the Democrats, such as GE and next year’s Solyndra.
Many radicals are likely expecting results more in tune with their ideologies, but more realistic leftist leaders might be satisfied with the opportunity to achieve mainstream status. And while the Democrats’ gambit might leave America with emboldened and angered extremists, it may also move the Overton Window to include serious socialism as an acceptable option by legitimizing previously-frowned-upon radical socialist movements.
The full consequences of mainstreaming this extremism are unknown. While these forces are not as dangerous as they were the first time, Obama’s divisive, scapegoating, campaign charts new ground in modern America. As Galston told the Financial Times “In normal circumstances, this pitch might be suicidal. But these are not normal circumstances.”
Yes, the current campaign against #OWS is still useful to keep Anarco-Socialism and its cousins outside the American mainstream, but the right must keep its eye on the ball. Winning next November’s election – defeating Obama and painting the Senate red – is job one, and right now, Obama is successfully controlling the discussion. The right must find ways to blunt this attack, and/or to change the subject. How to do so is the topic of another post altogether.