The Tea Party started out as a grassroots movement. But a playing field doesn't just have to be level for big-money pro sports like politics. It has to be astroturfed so it looks good under the TV lights. Once shadowy Republican supporters like the Koch brothers realized that the original Tea Party movement could be co-opted to re-energize the Republicans' base -- which had been demoralized by Obama's election -- they poured millions of dollars into the movement and, more importantly, through 'think tanks' like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, they started orchestrating media coverage and feeding those 'grassroots' 'real Americans' their talking points.
The irony that the Tea Partiers are by-and-large aging, middle-class, and poorly educated -- i.e., the very people the Koch bros. are committed to squeezing to death -- has thus far been lost on everyone, but the Tea Party definitely worked for the Republicans during the mid-term elections.
So, I wondered, would Warren Buffett (or some other liberal rich guy) seize a similar opportunity presented by Occupy Wall Street? God knows that the Democrats could stand to be re-energized by a popular uprising of people with no previous political knowledge (and no obvious political or economic sophistication) now, just like the Republiban Party needed it in 2009. Would Occupy Wall Street become, in effect, the Dems' Tea Party?
Any hope that Liberal money would parachute a spin doctor into the Wall Street encampment to organize them was dashed a week or so back, when the nascent movement finally released a rambling, ranting manifesto. It read as if it was written by a high-school girl writing with a ballpoint with a daisy attached by rubber band, who had eighteen people looking over her shoulder and adding their two cents' worth; it covered just about every global ill from overpaid bankers to that low-oxygen 'dead zone' in the ocean, to the exorbitant prices for Burning Man tickets.
I hope the Democrats do co-opt Occupy Wall Street, but not for the same reason other people do.
Here's a lesson from history: You take a loosely organized movement -- a rabble, and it doesn't matter if it's the Taliban, or the Tea Party -- and an organized group tries to co-opt that rabble, and harness its energies towards the organized group's ends, objectives, or interests -- the way the CIA co-opted the Mujahideen as an anti-Soviet force in Afghanistan, or the Koch bros. harnessed the Tea Party -- the same thing always happens. At first, the rabble gratefully accept support and progress is made towards the financiers' objectives.
Then, the rabble decides that rather than take direction, it will dictate policy. The Mujahideen morphed into the Taliban. The Tea Party stopped endorsing Republican candidates and started choosing their own. Virtually every Republican elected during the last cycle made that idiotic no-tax pledge in order to placate the Tea Party. Think about what that really means: every candidate basically tied one hand behind his own back before even getting to Washington; before even really learning what challenges lay ahead.
This gets me to my point. If the Democrats try to co-opt Occupy Wall Street, the rabble will soon enough decide they don't just want advice, funding and organizational support. The rabble will want to dictate terms to Democratic candidates. And while the Tea Party may well prove to be the Republibans' undoing, the Dems' desperately need to pushed to the left after years of pandering to vocal right-wing grassroots (and astroturf) movements, despite the fact that the acolytes of those right-wing movements were never going to vote for them anyway.
I hope that Occupy Wall Street does co-opt the Democratic Party. Obama has spent the last few weeks experimenting with the tiniest step to the left; he's using stronger language in campaigning for the 'jobs' bill, and the 'millionaire' tax. But he still acts as if he's afraid of offending American households earning $250k or even a million plus per year. That's a group that (the two Warrens -- Buffet and Beatty -- excepted) isn't going to vote for him anyway!
In the last couple of weeks, I've heard the most ridiculous stuff go unchallenged. Some Republiban congressman from Colorado said, "Some people making a million dollars a year aren't rich, they're the guy operating the corner dry cleaner."
Obama should have jumped on that, and said, "What is this guy, on crack?!? The only launderers making a million bucks a year are money launderers. How out of touch are the Republicans to think that a guy operating a corner dry cleaner is pulling in seven figures?" Then he should have organized a town hall meeting of dry cleaners and asked for a show of hands of the ones making over a million. They'd roll in the aisles.
And the Democrats aren't challenging the trite assertion that there are places -- Manhattan, Cupertino, or the Hamptons, for example, where an household income of $250k or even $1M doesn't make you rich.
Obama needs to say, "Look, I understand that if you live in an apartment overlooking Central Park in New York, or if parking valets in Silicon Valley aren't impressed with your Ferrari because its just a 'California' and not a GTB, and you're making half a million a year, you may not be rich compared to your neighbors. But if you are going to argue that you're just another struggling middle-class American, you need to vote Republiban, because you're not going to like what I stand for. I stand for you guys paying something forward, so other people can have the same great opportunities that America gave to you."
Obama needs to say, "Hey, if you think the earth is only 5,000 years old, and you want every school day to start with a Christian prayer, you need to vote Republiban, because I stand for the separation of church and state."
Obama needs to say, "If you don't think global warming's a problem, and that we're causing it or at least making it a whole lot worse, then you need to vote Republiban, because I stand for science and against a new Dark Age."
Obama needs to say, "You know what, we're going to put a public health care option back on the table. If you're happy with your massive insurance premiums, if you're happy with enormous copays, if you're happy with paying $400 for an aspirin if you go to the hospital, if you're happy with being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, if you're happy with Byzantine billing practices, just vote for someone else."
The Democrats need to realize that they've been way to careful to avoid riling a vocal minority who will never vote for them anyway. If Obama is afraid to come right out and take a stand against right-wing fringe groups backed by a handful of billionaires, then the Democrats need to put forth a nominee who will take that stand.
If it takes Occupy Wall Street to force that to happen, so be it.