Up the establishment

Craig Shirley President, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
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Let’s stipulate that Wall Street is currently occupied by dirty and dim-witted cretins.

But enough about bankers and brokers.

The temptation is to dismiss Wallstock as a bunch of unwashed bums, as some Republicans are doing, or to seek a means of politicizing Woodstreet, as the always crassly political but never intellectual Obama White House is attempting to do.

Shock and surprise, both are wrong.

The tea party, disgusted with the corruption of Washington and Wall Street, emerged from the populist right, refusing to subscribe to the nostrums of the Republican elected officials and their clueless advisers.

Truth be told, the first stirrings of the tea party were found in the grassroots opposition to George Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers. Asking conservatives to swallow the nomination of someone clearly unqualified was just a bridge too far for the right. John Kennedy once famously said that sometimes party loyalty asks too much and Bush was asking too much. From there, opposition to Bush became easier for conservatives, as manifested in the fight over the corporate-inspired immigration bill in the summer of 2007 and the corporation-written TARP bill in the fall of 2008.

The GOP has benefited from the tea party movement at the ballot box in part because status quo Democrats have mocked and attacked tea partiers, helping to drive them into the Republican fold, even though the tea party is explicitly opposed to Bush’s big-government conservatism.

The tea party movement has helped re-intellectualize the GOP and is quite simply one of the most significant political developments in American politics since the advent of the Reagan Democrat. Because of the tea party, the philosophy of freedom is once again becoming the organizing principle of the GOP, supplanting the neoconservative-inspired organizing principle of “security.”

The Occupy movement, disgusted with the corruption of Wall Street, has emerged from the populist left. Some of its members refuse to believe in the establishment Obamanoids and the cynical advisers they have listened to for the past three years as they have foisted a religion of “Bigness” on the American people: Big Government, Big Labor, Big Detroit, Big Business, Big Education, the very manifestation of “too big to fail” that found its manger-like birth in the last days of 2008.

It’s too early to assign intellectual heft to the Occupy movement, but it should not be ignored and certainly not attacked across the board. The crass and vulgar street-theater antics of some of the Wall Street protesters should not be confused with the greater numbers who are legitimately questioning the corruption of Corporate America.

It is also too early to calculate the Occupy movement’s political ramifications. The anti-war movement of the late 1960s reached its crescendo at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Windy City cops joyously beat the shit out of the protesters, all for the benefit of the national media, some of whom also got clubbed around, a nice bonus for Republicans.

Ironically, the protesters undermined Hubert Humphrey, who was handcuffed to Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War policies. And so the protesters unwittingly contributed to the election of Richard Nixon, who was certainly not one of their favorite candidates.

Reform movements in America sometimes lead to change, but usually through the courts and legislation and not through the ballot box. The tea party is an exception to that rule. Still, no one can project into the future nor should anyone in these wildly uncertain times.

Foolishly, some establishment Republicans are attacking the Occupy movement, even as polls show a significant number of Main Street Republicans actually support the uprising. There is a strong streak of Madam DeFarge (of a Tale of Two Cities) in the conservative movement — people who are disgusted by the existential affairs dressed up as legitimate business between Washington and Corporate America.

The evidence is overwhelming that the fix has been in between the K Street walkers, politicians, their consultants and Wall Street. And honest Americans of the left and the right know it. For too many on both sides, the Obama administration is just continuing what began in 2005.

What both movements are in part about is the failure of the system to hold anyone to account. In light of the ongoing malfeasance of the elites, has there been a Justice Department probe or a congressional inquiry? Has the New York attorney general’s office dug into the matter with any vigor? As Delaware’s attorney general, Beau Biden, pointed out on “Morning Joe,” while 1,000 people went to prison for causing the S&L crisis, no one has gone to jail for causing the current economic calamity.

Case in point is one Timmy Geithner. The first day he testified before Congress in 2009, I saw him and thought to myself, “What is this, bring your cabinet nominee to work day?” As it turns out, Timmy was slicker than any of us thought, having ignored his taxes for years. Did he go to jail? No, he’s in the cabinet as a member of the New York financial elite in good standing. The rules simply don’t apply to people like Geithner or Chris Dodd, who benefited from favorable mortgages from Countrywide.

Speaking of which, why isn’t Chris Dodd in prison?

Right now, the Occupy movement is clumsy and unfocused, speaking with many voices and offering many opinions and points of view, not all of them rational. If it continues, it will eventually fine-tune its message and become coherent. If it becomes a voice for the pursuit of justice for dishonest lobbyists and politicians and crooked Wall Street operators, it will have a future.

If it becomes a voice for violent American socialism, its future is limited. This is still a right-of-center country and law and order is for the most part still celebrated in America. If Occupy tries to emulate the Jacobinism of the European deconstructionists, it will fail. If it adopts an anti-elitism agenda, it can succeed. Ironically, this is the fly in the buttermilk for Obama. As America’s uber-elitist, he can’t talk or walk real populism.

Thermidor was the 11th month in the calendar of the French Revolution, but the word also came to mean the end of the Reign of Terror. As America is in the 11th year of the 21st century, perhaps it is coming to an end of the reign of corruption.

In the meantime, something meaningful is going on in the country and authority is being blissfully questioned.

Vox populi. Pox electissimus. Voice of the people. Down with the elites.

Craig Shirley is the Reagan Scholar at Eureka College and the author of two books on Reagan’s campaigns including Rendezvous with Destiny. He has a new book coming out later this year, December, 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World. He is also the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.