I posted earlier about The New Republic’s “skepticism” toward #occupyWallStreet. There’s another fascinating display of liberal OWS bashing going on here. I was drawn to it, while perusing the OWS posts on WordPress a couple of days ago, by its provocative title:
“Failure.” “FAILURE.” [Shouting CAPS in the original.] In it, the author, John W. Smart (if that’s his real name), gloats about the impending doom of #OccupyLA’s encampment at City Hall (which I watched part of last night on ustream) before snarkily giving it his thumbs down:
Many Occupiers are busy congratulating themselves for their “accomplishment” – another perfect demonstration of pathetic public education system they emerged from. Everybody gets a sticker for showing up. Everyone’s ‘self worth’ is feted with a bull horn and a cookie. The concept of real accomplishment is utterly foreign, in fact, it is dangerous. The true “others” in this nether world are those who get things done. They must be fought.
In terms of ‘getting things done’ Occupy is an abject failure. 3 months in and not a single major bank as been shut down…or is even in fear of failure. No enabler in Congress is remotely concerned about his/her job. The middle class, who took it up the south side and continues to with the bailouts, is completely disinterested, if not disgusted. The sympathetic press – such as it is – has moved on, alighting only for the occasional graphic clip of pepper spraying or baton beating. What Occupy wanted at the outset (still a muddled question) has not come to pass, nor is any tangible action moving in that direction.
Still what one might call a success – if one is generous – did occur. There is a slightly greater consciousness of how rigged our system is. This is not nothing, though to my thinking it’s close. The population understood the system was rigged before Occupy showed up. Occupy did show us that some people are willing to do some thing about the appalling racket we call an economy. I give the protesters credit for this. Unless the encampments were merely a prelude and Occupy morphs into a vital, muscular movement – and quickly – I must call it like I see it: Occupy is a failure.
Let’s first note that Occupy as a viable force is two months old. I think it’s premature to expect any movement to outright “succeed,” however one defines success, but it’s certainly premature, not to say churlish, to conclude that something that is barely aborning is a failure. It’s this injustice in the remark that provoked me to plunge in with a comment in defense of OWS.
The denizens who populate Smart’s comment section (and I sincerely envy him the number and liveliness of his crew), have been trying to help me understand that his assessment of OWS is based on keen political analysis and “open-mindedness” tempered by insistence on “results.” From that perspective, I suppose it’s understandable that OWS would offer a baffling puzzle. What did the occupations accomplish in their first two months of existence, besides providing several spectacles of violence with municipal police forces, including the largest mass arrest in NYC history. They did manage to have a lot of ink spilled and tape rolled as media figures struggled to figure out what these crazy kids in their tents actually wanted. But did they change a single vote in Congress? Probably not. Did they bring down a single bank? No, not in two months. Did they bring an end to the reign of gasbag punditry, 24 hour news cycles and reality TV? Again, not yet. Did they instigate a single revolution? Actually, I think the answer to the last question is yes, but, again, even for that it’s too early to rule on its success or failure.
In my time on his site, I learned that Smart (if that is his real name) and many of his fans are actually Hillary Clinton supporters. (A link to this WSJ article calling it the most important thing for anyone to read that day was my first big clue.) This cleared up a number of puzzling exchanges I’d had before really being able to look around at the virtual environment I’d wandered into. Despite complaints about “hippies” and “poop” and an obsession with tents and disorderly encampments (usually the sure signs of right-wingers at play), I noticed right away complaints that OWS ignored Obama’s ties to Wall Street and suggestions it was somehow serving him and his reelection campaign. To be sure, the most vocal commenter harping on the Obama ties seems to be center-right at his or her leftest. But there was another who denigrated Ralph Nader while praising another Green candidate and noisily proclaiming himself to be an Independent. (Party unity, my ass!)
Full disclosure: I was an Obama supporter in 2008. I was never a Hillary supporter (except, of course, during her trials with Bill contra both Bill and the vast right-wing conspiracy and also her first run for the Senate). In the context of the 2008 primaries, I did actually have hopes for Obama. Right away this distinguishes me from the Hillary crowd. Obama eventually disappointed me; he never sickened me for stealing the title of top Democrat away from the “rightful” owner. I am aware, however, that what Obama actually disappointed in me was a state of support for him that had I talked myself into. I did not become an Obama supporter until forced to decide during the NY primary in March 2008, but then I talked myself into a form of faith, as I usually do during our ridiculous American presidential elections, and I stuck with him, was even enthusiastic about him, until the Rick Warren bullshit made the first chip in my Obama-supporting edifice. No point in reliving the rest of my steady disillusionment. I only want to add that Obama has returned to the mediocre regard I felt for him from his stylish but substance-less speech at the 2004 Democratic convention until I decided to assume his vague calls for “hope” and “change” might be backed by sincerity or passion and pulled the lever in that primary.
The point is, I’m not a sucker for Obama. I have been a sucker for American-style democracy, which has compelled me to periodically talk myself into getting excited about one of the center-right stick figures the Democratic Party decides to make its progressives vote for every four years. Perhaps this fluid state I’m in toward a party that insists on disappointing the shit out of me (in addition to my current economic circumstances as an unemployed American) has made me more open to OWS. But it’s really only been since I ran into the wall with Smart and his circle that I discovered what openness to OWS really entails, what it asks of us who are attracted to it, and why it’s so difficult for some on the left and center-left to get with its program.
If you have abiding faith in one of these characters on the American national stage, implicit in that is faith in the system that puts these characters on that stage. Some of these Hillary supporters were radicalized a bit by the 2008 primaries. They were helped, thanks to the belief that their choice was entitled and was robbed by an upstart, to see that if the Party and the powers settle on a golden boy (or girl, presumably, some day), not even the rightful candidate can hope to win the whole game. The game is rigged, in other words. Of course if Hillary had won the nomination, it would have been Obama-bots throwing bombs from the sidelines as President Clinton 44 stumbled. But the die-hard faithful–the partisans who love their candidate like a star–are always poised to come back to the game again and again and again, ever hopeful that their love object will prevail this time.
OWS is not even in that game. OWS has broken through to the realization that that whole game is rigged to favor the 1%. This seems to be the point many Democrat-ish liberals can’t wrap their minds around. What’s the point of a political movement that refuses to even play politics? Does it ever occur to them that maybe politics does not have to be–maybe even should not be– just a spectator sport. Maybe what we think of as politics, as the source of solutions to political problems, is not all of what politics is or should be. Maybe we don’t have to rely on technocrats like Barney Frank, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama to care for the 99%’s interest. Maybe the 99% can find ways to take care of our own interest ourselves. Maybe we can find ways to lead these “leaders” from outside the system to a more just system. It’s worth talking and thinking about, isn’t it? (I’d say it’s vitally urgent to talk and think about.)
Of course, it’s always possible that even if liberals of a certain type were to make the leap to liberate themselves from the confining box of thinking in terms of politics as usual, they may still find it disagreeable to have to take “dirty hippies” seriously. But at least they’d be out of the box, and maybe from that perspective, they’d learn to rethink a whole lot more of their constricting prejudices.
UPDATE: I accidentally kicked a hornet’s nest with this post. Oh well. It was unintentional. I discovered that there’s a lot of hurt left over from 2008–and I mean the part that came before Independence Day, between the primaries’ official losers and winners. It was amusing to be called an Obama-bot for the first few times, then it got to be disturbing. I don’t care if people haveto resort to calling me dumb names if they don’t have anything intelligent to counter with, if that’s all they have. I can give as good as I get if I have to. But I am disturbed by mass delusion. Here were a bunch of individuals who had seemed reasonable enough suddenly sounding an awful lot like religious fanatics finding an infidel in their midst. These are people who apparently have an enormous amount of psychic energy invested in the spring of 2008 who are still carrying the charge around with them. (I can fairly confidently predict that a number of them, if they should read these words, will find it ironic that an “Obama-bot” should be disturbed by mass delusion. Touché, Hillbots, touché!)
I would not have carried a charge if Obama had lost the primaries. I just didn’t have that much invested in him. But perhaps I am unusal? I hope not. I hope more Democrats will learn to just drop all that pointless psychic investment in these ambitious people who, mark my words, will bitterly disappoint them. We’re not talking about gods here, we’re talking about the kinds of people who do the strange things you have to do if you actually want to be president of this fucked-up country. More to the point, we’re talking about Democrats. Does that not say enough?