Editor’s Note: Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here
Matt, Where have you been and why haven’t you been writing your column? Were you kidnapped by the Occupy Wallstreeters? – J. Wrightson
Look, I’m glad you’re concerned enough to ask. But don’t try to turn this into a job for me. I don’t come here because I have to. I come here because I want to. Because this is a safe space that relaxes and rejuvenates, and the time we spend here is much like the time I spend tending my herb garden, or listening to Clay Aiken records, or taking my vajazzling kit down to the senior center where I volunteer.
I do apologize for the unexplained absence, however. I had a few other assignments stack up. And I do so enjoy leaving the claustrophobic confines of my writing hole to go out into the world with my trusty notebook and tape recorder (screw digital, I still use micro cassettes — as I like a warmer sound) so that I can paint pictures made of words. Word Pictures, if you will.
While I was not kidnapped by Occupy Wall Streeters, I am in fact recently returned from OWS HQ in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan — a magnificent little isle. It’s run by this one-percenter (as opposed to us, the noble 99 percent) named “Mayor Bloomberg,” who feels just sick about how rich he is, so he’ll only accept one dollar a year in mayoral salary. Proving that you get what you pay for. Over the years, he has banned everything from clergy at 9/11 ceremonies to smoking at city parks or beaches to trans fats in restaurants. But if you’re an unhygienic anarchist costing the city untold sums in police overtime while camping out for a month, serving dirty-fingernail gazpacho without a food-service permit , and pinching a loaf on a squad car, then hey — his casa es su casa!
I don’t wish, however, to harsh the OWS mellow, as we who are pretending it’s still the sixties like to say. I made a lot of friendships there that I hope will last a lifetime. Not just old friends, like MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, who was broadcasting right next to the park, getting shouted down by OWS’ers even as he was defending them on the air. Ed, who fancies himself a man of the people, wanted to be down with the other have-nots in the park who’d been victimized by Wall Street, like Kanye West and Russell Simmons. But apparently, the OWS’ers consider him part of the “corporate media,” which is why they were screaming things at him like, “Go home, Ed!” and “Donate your check, Ed!” and “Give us Barabbas!” (admission: that last one was me — I’d gotten into the Jesus Juice during the Big Labor/OWS solidarity rally.)
But as I reported in the Weekly Standard, I also made new friends, like Spooky the Anarchist, a masked-up willfully homeless con artist who was charging tourists to have their picture taken with him, and who described the scene as a “homeless man’s dream camp,” which afforded him everything from free food to free clothing. Then there was Sid the Nazi, an obscenity-spewing white supremacist who had also found common cause with the grab-bag of fellow grievance groupers. Sid explained to me how there’s been a lot of America-approved genocides, from Nagasaki to the American Indian, but when someone like Hitler does the Jews wrong — everybody starts crying about it. Not that he’s admitting Hitler did anything to the Jews. Nor that it was wrong. That’s what the Jewish-controlled media wants you to believe.
But even Sid the Nazi had his fill of his fellow protesters, when getting handed all the commie literature — an affront to good taste, and to Hitler. (Old rivalries die hard.) Of course, Spooky and Sid the Nazi and commie literature make for much inconvenience for the scads of leftoid apologists trying to pretend that OWS is about something that it’s not. As do hard poll numbers, such as New York magazine’s report that over one-third of the attendees believe the U.S. government is no better than al Qaida.
Yes, plenty of greedhead Wall Street types abused the hell out of the system, and caused our country great pain. Nobody can honestly dispute that. Likewise, plenty of people are hurting (some of them my friends and family), and understandably want somebody to blame. But what is this particular protest about? From my experience, I learned that it’s primarily about overeducated, underemployed twentysomethings who are frustrated they haven’t found their dream jobs as documentary filmmakers in the worst economy in several generations, all while amassing 100 grand in student loans. Perhaps they should instead occupy the NYU admissions office, or better still, question their choices and keep their fingers crossed for a rebound. (Things must not be too dire, however, since several protesters I spoke with had quit their jobs to join the movement.) But instead, they’d rather blame JPMorgan Chase for everything from their eczema to their poor Wi-Fi connectivity, so that they can play bongos in the park while pretending their permanent disaffection is about credit default swaps, if they even know what those are.
And this is the larger problem with their movement, as it is with so many movements, truth be told. Movements seek to generalize, and to patch over specifics. To make the complex simple. To find convenient fall guys, and a universal theory of everything. So that if I bought a Mercedes when all I could afford was a Toyota, or bought a $900,000 McMansion when all I could really afford was a townhouse, it must be Lehman Brothers’ fault, not mine.
Much as the tea party blames government for every ill, OWS seeks to do the same with Wall Street. While tea partiers are saner and smell better, and though it pains either side to admit it, both sides have plenty in common, besides just liking to dress in fruity costumes while yelling in the streets. (Even though if forced to choose, I’d rather tea party types land their hands on the levers of government over OWS types, as the only thing more dangerous than the state America is currently in would be for it to resemble the faculty lounge at UC-Santa Cruz.) But both sides are in the blame-pinning business — some of it where it’s due, much of it where it’s not.
For profligate government bureaucrats and sticky-fingered Wall Street traders aren’t anomalous to us. They are us. Not for nothing did the average American household carry $21,000 in debt, a third of that from credit cards, before the recession even hit. Not for nothing do nearly half of all Americans live in a household with someone receiving government benefits. We want things to stay easy, then want to blame the other guy — be it the filthy rich investment banker or the overreaching Obama czar — when our unsustainable way of life gets hard.
If Walt Whitman were alive today, he wouldn’t hear America singing. He’d hear it whining. From Occupy Wall Street to the tea party, we all want to see America return to its old form. And maybe a little whining works around the edges. But to my knowledge, no country has ever whined its way back into prosperity.
Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.