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Occupational Therapy

A movement custom-designed to hurt liberals.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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In the New Yorker, George Packer profiled a sad young man lacking the ability to form either career or social connections, able to stay afloat in a thriving economy but lost and alone in a struggling one, who found in Occupy Wall Street the only community to which he had ever belonged. The Washington Post gave us a man from Vermont who walked barefoot from New York to Washington, wearing clothes of his own manufacture, and showed us the filthy black soles of his feet. Therrien has found fulfillment in his work with the Occupy Puppet Guild, making puppets of the Statue of Liberty and an Occupied Brooklyn Bridge. Asked about political action to restore budget cuts so his school could rehire him, he seemed indifferent to the idea. Davison also lacked interest in politics. “I think one day there could come a time for demands, but right now I think demands would fracture and divide people,” she told the Nation.

The civil rights and Tea Party movements addressed specific concerns—a cosmic injustice, and fiscal policies believed to be ruinous—that had means of redress through political remedies, which they pursued by legal, nonviolent means. The Occupy forces by and large have problems that do not admit of political solutions. The civil rights and Tea Party movements sprang from the middle of middle America; Occupy Wall Street from the fringe. Its happy embrace of a “communal”—and rag-tag and dirty—lifestyle was bound to alienate that much larger part of society that likes soap and water; clean clothes, sheets, and towels; indoor plumbing and sleeping in beds. The people who claimed to speak for the 99 percent who aren’t rich managed to repel the 98 percent who want order and cleanliness.

Thus the longed-for fusion of the Occupy people with the down-and-out denizens of the heartland never took place. And even if it had, it’s not clear the Democrats would have benefited. The financial collapse—a lethal brew of bad bankers and bad government regulation—was a bipartisan affair. People on all sides thought it was a good idea to have as many people as possible buying houses with no money down and subsidized mortgages: Conservatives thought it would instill middle-class values; liberals wanted to spread wealth around. Wall Street executives coined money on the disaster, but on the Fannie Mae end of it, Democratic VIPs like Franklin Raines, James Johnson, and Jamie Gorelick made out like the bandits they are. Barack Obama and other liberal lights are as close to the 1 percent (they are the 1 percent) as are leading Republicans; many themselves are worth millions of dollars, and routinely tie up the streets of big cities en route to fundraisers at which tickets go for $35,000 a shot. Occupiers have been heard and been filmed booing the name of the president. Video from the 2009 election cycle of Obama with his arm around his good friend Jon Corzine will no doubt be coming up soon.

Still, hope continues to grow in some quarters that this inchoate group of aimless souls can be turned into a political force. Organized labor plans to bus in thousands of members to pitch tents on the Mall next month for an event called Occupy Congress. In New York magazine, John Heilemann gives an exhaustive account of the attempt by a small number of hard-line, hard-left, and very professional political activists to lead what seems like the “movement” in their direction, and their ambitions are large. In the spring, he says, they believe “the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance .  .  . when, with the unfurling of the presidential election, the whole world will be watching. .  .  . There is fervid talk about occupying both the Democratic and Republican conventions and the National Mall.” Yes, tent cities teeming with lice, rape charges, and piles of excrement (200 pounds of it in Santa Cruz, California) are just the thing to rally swing voters. 

Heilemann recalls that the last time the left went in for this kind of street theater, the combined vote for George Wallace and Richard M. Nixon swamped Hubert Humphrey by a 57-43 percent margin. He also reports on one of the driving forces of Occupy Wall Street—a Russian immigrant who became a professional protester in the Bush era, staging flash protests against the Iraq war. This past spring, he went to Madrid where he played a large part in the anti-austerity protests. In November, Spain ousted its socialist government, electing by a large majority a conservative party pledged to further austerity. As someone once said, “Bring it on.”

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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