the Grand Old Party: no longer grand, probably still old, seeking help
December 5, 2011 Leave a comment
For a long time, the media and the political sphere were undecided on Occupy Wall Street (OWS); was it a fluke? Was it a short-lived movement that would dissipate as soon as the first winter frost would bite their unprotected fingers? Unsure of the future of the movement, Wall Street bankers and other lobbyists refused to intervene or simply ignored the protesters, seemingly growing more and more uncomfortable as the idea(l) spread across the country like wildfire. It wasn’t until the massacre in Oakland, CA that the general public was faced with a manichean decision: to support or not support OWS? Who are those college graduates, mothers of two, recently laid off executives, and journalists willing to suffer at the hands and batons of their local police department for their beliefs? Curiosity didn’t kill the cat: it is however threatening the hegemony the Republican Party is trying to create for itself. After their 2010 victory in the House of Representatives, Republicans, with Tea Party candidates as their herald, can no longer ignore the stomping feet and angered grown knocking on their door. Is the Republican Party just the shadow of what it once was?
It made the headlines this week: the GOP is scared of Occupy Wall Street, because it has an “impact”. We are always scared of the unknown, the unexpected, what springs upon us unseen and unplanned – the scariest is that Republicans never saw it coming. The financial divide splitting the country in two, the one articulated in simple mathematics by the OWS rhetoric – “the 99%”, the people, the masses, the proletariat, the working and middle classes, versus “the 1%” of extremely financially secure, the rich, the over rich, the über rich, but most importantly, the ones not subjected to taxes – is finding an echo chamber in America. The GOP had it all until then: banging against the President for violating what the “founding fathers” had in mind, appealing to the historically conscious; the religious right had never seen such better time even under George Bush Sr, finding in House Leader John Boehner the crusader they had been waiting for; the rich, the lobbyists, the employers resting comfortably on their armchairs knowing their interests were just as secure with every Republican vote as it would be in a safe in Switzerland.
“It has been replaced, with much help of spin doctor Karl Rove and economist Francis Fukuyama, into war-mongering machine “
I believe the GOP no longer is the party it once was, the structure that spawned George Bush Sr. What could be labelled “rational conservatism”, advocacy for the social convenance of the much-altered “family values” capable of evolving with its time, paired with fiscal conservatism and expensive foreign policy, has vanished. It has been replaced, with much help of spin doctor Karl Rove and economist Francis Fukuyama, into war-mongering machine pandering to the religious right and calling for the return of much forgotten values belonging, literally, to another century. Stephen Singular, author of the book “The Wichita Divide”, wrote in April,
When people at the very top of society sanction hatred in a public way, it filters down to those not only less fortunate, but sometimes to those who are emotionally unstable. Then violence becomes not just likely, but virtually predictable. And then, when it’s too late, the haters claim they had nothing to do with the bloodshed and run for the hills. Whether we want to be or not, we’re all involved in this war and we’re all responsible for what we bring to it. This is a fight for the soul of the nation, just as the first Civil War was. We can’t afford to lose the sense of co-operation and balance that have kept America alive, and kept religion and politics separate, throughout more than two centuries. We are perilously close to the edge. (1)
What the GOP is attempting to do in the modern United States is nothing more, nothing less of a divide in morality, a sanctioned, self-righteous concept of right and wrong. Its popularity however clearly declined the second the ordinary American citizen, embodied by the infamous Joe the Plumber, once campaigning behind Sarah Palin, could no longer afford to pay his credit card bills, or found himself homeless after his home was foreclosed by Bank of America. The divide is not drawn between religious beliefs; it is not drawn between war-supporters and the so-called tree huggers. It is not the concept of right and wrong, left and right as we had seen it to this day. What Occupy Wall Street has highlighted is a divide between those who can’t and those who can; those who can’t are however those who could and would. It’s the coulda-woulda-shoulda-but I have been out of work for more than four months. The GOP has always tried to portray itself as the party of the working class, the undereducated, the simple man seeking to feed his family. Besides those suits, those ties and those secondary homes in Florida, GOP representatives have always catered to those who haven’t been in college but are still upholding the same education values their parents had once cherished. The left, especially during the John Kerry campaign of 2004, was the college man, the separatist with his books and his Latin – in short, a character that was unrelatable. John Kerry, despite all his qualifications, could not be the representative of the entire American people. He did not fit with the narrative George W. Bush was pushing forward: that of a former failure that made it good, of the underdog that was handpicked in the crowd to lead his flock into a tiresome but necessary battle. John Kerry, using arguments against the Iraq war that no one could understand, that never appealed to the passionate core of popular politics, lost in a desperate and frankly pathetic fashion. A leader has little to do with knowledge. It has everything to do with charisma.
“Occupy Wall Street represents a formidable paradox in American politics: it is the precise opposite of the Republican movement, yet it uses and benefits from the same popular appeal”
Under the younger Bush’s reign – more so under Rove and Fukuyama’s – the GOP no longer was about governance and democracy, but protecting lobbyists’ interests. The party was transformed to please those funding it, and could care less about the interests of the people, the very one they were representing in Congress and in the Oval Office. The battle for the hearts and minds of the American people was won with little effort in the days following 9/11, with a collective morale so low it could only find its way upwards. The 9/11 skeptics, the deniers, were called treaters to the nation, they were accused of befriending the terrorists, of embracing their cause, of ruining America with a disbelief that only belonged at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where European socialists were shaking their heads at the upcoming and unavoidable pro-war propaganda that would be unleashed. There is no distance to ever be taken. Occupy Wall Street represents a formidable paradox in American politics: it is the precise opposite of the Republican movement, yet it uses and benefits from the same popular appeal. Appealing to the passionate, the have-nots, all those without a cause is what Occupy Wall Street do best. It had the elite confused in the first months of the movement, but quickly grew into an idea that had people riled up, that churned everyone’s guts, that divided a country into the financially secure and the precarious. It drew a line everyone knew their side on.
The one thing about Occupy Wall Street, though, is what no one had counted on: the deafening silence on the Republican side. Democrat senators such as Barney Frank and independent – yet Republican primary runner – Ron Paul supported the movement from the get-go. The vast majority of those in office, however, remained completely mute. For a long time their lack of appropriate commentary justified itself by a so-called vagueness as to where the movement was heading and what their precise demands were. When the first violent clashes with law enforcement took place, they took place with the world watching: on the nightly news, but more importantly on Occupy Wall Street’s own livestream, the self-generated source of information on the movement. In New York City, the home base of the movement, the police operation labeled “Bloomberg Dawn” by the occupiers was met with unprecedented support from the every day man and even elected officials: among the arrested was a City Council member. From then on, especially after the terrifying demonstration of force by the Oakland Police Department, Occupy Wall Street showed more than simple discontentment with banks and their allies – it proved disenchantment and lack of trust towards the very institution of government, the need for a real freedom of speech, and hard proof that democracy still exists. Hardly had the United States seen such uprisings, such grasp on civil liberties held by the very Constitution the Tea Party claimed to respect. There was fear in the incumbent eyes. Their answer to disagreement and discontentment is not more elections or more town hall meetings, it’s oppression and repression. That everybody, thanks to the internet, can now see and access.
The GOP doesn’t play the democracy game anymore. It just wants to be in charge all the time. And they certainly didn’t plan OWS.
What is shocking and bewildering to them is that the police state no longer scares people. They’re ready to fight. The threat of pepper sprays, of mace, of batons, and of imprisonment without clear charges is expected, even accepted among the occupiers. The National Lawyers Guild even provided free legal aid to those without assistance during arrest. The General Assemblies provided information on how to peacefully resist arrest. Several million dollars were donated through private funds to the cause so occupiers can have shelter, food, and electricity for their laptops and iPhones, instrumental for the message to keep on spreading. The tables have turned: the lyricism in the discourse, the great calls for justice, the appeal to the morals of putative supporters, the poking of socio-political buttons is now in OWS’s cold, callous palms. There is not a single family in the great land of the free that doesn’t have a son, a brother, a cousin, a mother that is out of work, whose house’s mortgage is slipping out of their hands, with a stepbrother recently graduating college having to deal with not having a future in sight. The nation is rising and asking for the American dream to be handed back to them, the people; for transparency and trustworthiness; for a reason to believe, and another reason not to be afraid. Chuck Palahniuk once wrote that once you’ve lost everything, you’re free to do anything. Nothing could illustrate it better than Occupy Wall Street, people leaving the comfort of their apartment to live under a tent with a thousand strangers all reunited against the same cause. The Republican Party is failing because it has failed the very people that would once buy into their easily articulated spin. The Democrats are losing momentum because they no longer know how to speak to a youth movement that was once easily acquired in the polls. Occupy Wall Street is now more than a movement. It is. And it will stay.
Read more on OWS: interview with journalist and occupier John Knefel // interview with writer, comedian and all-around muckracker, Lee Camp