The legion of detractors of the Occupy Wall Street protests are beginning to sound as tedious as some of the activists. Their favorite rejoinder seems to be 'get a job' followed close on by 'take a bath'. Of course neither one is particularly useful when you're speaking of a group of people who are essentially camping in an era of 9.5% unemployment. Those protesting the protests are as clueless as to what the Occupy movement is about as the individual tin-foil hat candidates they love to single out as somehow representative, which of course they are not.
Some of this is the fault of the movement itself, which has deliberately sought to be so leaderless and egalitarian that it has given a voice, however briefly, to all manner of crackpots and scatterbrains, and even listened politely while they rant about whatever is on their minds. The rest is due to the self-appointed and largely self-serving guardians of the status quo who pick out easy targets for the kind of sound bite criticism that sells blog space and air time. These pundits miss the issues at the heart of Occupy Wall Street, and so miss the opportunity to engage in the kind of dialogue that would actually address our myriad of problems.
Raise your hand if you think Occupy Wall Street is a bunch of effete college students who think they should get something for nothing simply because they are too lazy to work for it. Shout out if you believe they are all left-leaning progressives who want to crush business with an endless stream of burdensome taxes and regulations. Stamp your feet if you are convinced that Occupy Wall Street was started by a bunch of elitist college professors to sweep away capitalism and the American way of life and replace it with a New World Order. What a bunch of folderol—honestly!
The irony here is that the protestors camped out in Zuccotti park are angry for the same reasons that the Tea Party is angry. Their future looks hopelessly grim. The self-worth and economic value that were supposed to accrue to them for getting an education and going to work have evaporated. The rewards of innovation and creativity and perseverance and frugality and hard work are no longer assured. The natural order of things has been overturned and replaced by something insidious and grossly unfair. The system now rewards the pirates and charlatans.
The difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party lies, not in why they are mad, but rather in who they are mad at. Occupy Wall Street is mad at the bank executives and speculators who stole our future—the guys who, as Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, has pointed out, created a system to 'socialize losses and privatize gains'. They took huge risks, pocketed the money they made, and got the taxpayers to backstop their play when things went south. You can follow the money and see what they got away with. Their perfidy is well documented and infamous.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, is mad at Barak Obama and the runaway spending of the Democrats. They are mad at everyone who got sucked into an adjustable rate mortgage. They are mad at people with serious illnesses who can't buy medical insurance. Why don't they just die already and quit burdening an already overtaxed system? They are mad at welfare cheats, medicare cheats, layabouts who draw unemployment instead of getting jobs, and anything with the word entitlement in it.
They are mad at these things because Glen Beck told them to be, or Rush Limbaugh, or any one of a number of pandering nabobs who make their money telling people what they want to hear. It hardly matters that the math doesn't work. You can take all the villains of the fundamentalist right and add up the money lost to their villainy and you won't come up to the amount of the problem. That's because the problem is on the other side of the equation—the revenue side—the side where the real cheats live.