Watching the protesters camped out in Manhattan and in a few other metropolitan areas brings to mind Yogi Berra’s insight that it’s “déjà vu all over again.” The similarities to and shared contradictions with the anti-war and anti-establishment protesters prevalent on college campuses when I attended undergraduate and graduate school in the late 1960s and early 1970s are astounding … and humorous.
Indeed, many of these 21st-century protesters are openly mimicking their counterparts from two generations earlier — even down to the tie-dyed shirts, ragged headbands and body paintings that were favored evidence of the counterculture way back when. Many are college students, including students from expensive private colleges and prestigious public universities.
Now as then, entertainment stars have been eager to latch onto the protesters to prove that, despite their wealth, they really are just common folk at heart, fully and sincerely capable of empathizing with the outdoor complainants — at least for an hour or so.
Rap star Kanye West, festooned in expensive bling, made his requisite appearance to show “solidarity” with those protesting high-paid corporate leaders — but he was careful not to be similarly critical of those in the entertainment industry who are just as generously remunerated. Film star Susan Sarandon and film maker Michael Moore — both among Hollywood’s well-heeled elite — have rubbed shoulders briefly with the huddled masses camped out in New York’s financial district (and made sure the fawning media was there to record the importance of their presence).
Such pandering by the elites reminds those of us who lived through the protest-rich 1960s and early ’70s of how the wealthy would gather in Manhattan apartments owned by the likes of Leonard Bernstein, or in estates overlooking the Hollywood Hills, to drink champagne while expressing solidarity with the young people taking time from their college studies to protest the oh-so-awful policies of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
The protesters this go-round, of course, are not targeting a sitting president; indeed, this president is seen as a friend and soul mate. President Barack Obama is not only beloved by the current generation of protesters, but his open and repeated efforts to make class warfare and class envy of the “rich” the signature issues of his first term has provided the spark for the young people (and some middle-aged hippies) railing against “greed.”
How long these motley crews will be able to sustain their protests remains unclear; perhaps until the holidays bring them home to the families who are paying for their college adventures; or perhaps until exams force them to leave the streets and return to the classroom. But, whenever that is, they can rejoin their families and colleagues in the assurance they are no more “revolutionaries” than were their parents and grandparents who protested before them.
True revolutionaries, such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, actually understand history and human nature, and are truly (not superficially) well-educated on the substance of that which they espouse. And, unlike their modern, self-styled namesakes, these icons possess vision and have concrete goals, not slogans and placards; and they are willing to sacrifice much (if not everything) to achieve their goals.
Our Wall Street blowhards may know how to use a Blackberry and an iPad, and even how to tie-dye a shirt or paint a fellow protester’s body; but the shallowness of their knowledge of economics, history and human nature dooms them to be quickly forgotten once the media eye shifts elsewhere.
The only danger will be if the small number of numbskulls calling for initiating violence are able to muster sufficient support to actually carry through on such threats. If so, these “occupiers” may indeed be remembered, but not for any positive contributions to their “cause” (whatever that is).
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.