I want you to help me plan a wedding. It's my first try. See, I have these friends, Occupy Wall Street and the tea party. I'm convinced they would make a fantastic couple – they just don't know it yet. In fact, when they get together, they often fight. But their impulses are good. If we can harness their passions in a constructive union, we will all benefit. Before this can happen, a few issues need to be worked out.
Sometimes both Occupy Wall Street and the tea party disappoint me. It's great that they both speak their mind. In fact, it is an infinitely better habit than zoning out to the dull drone of TV every night. Yet in their indignation, some extreme elements in both movements misdirect anger toward fellow citizens deemed different. Animosity toward people of other political parties, income levels, races, or religions is a foolish distraction. We should encourage both movements to actively discredit such notions.
Most people who consume mainstream news coverage will no doubt feel a strange sensation to scapegoat either Occupy Wall Street or the tea party as extremists. Pick your channel, pick your enemy. What you won't find in nightly news is a narrative that simultaneously praises both. Bring two budding but polarized anti-establishment movements together? Why, that's just unacceptable!
Here are a few shared characteristics of Occupy Street and the tea party we should applaud:
- they know something is deeply, intrinsically wrong with the current economic system;
- they are willing to publicly organize and speak out against economic injustice;
- they distrust the mainstream media;
- they oppose corporate bailouts, which dump debt on the middle class;
- they blame lobbyists and secret backroom deal-making in Washington for rampant corruption.
The tea party rallies in defense of free markets over bailouts. They call for dramatic spending cuts to rein in Washington's growing dollar bubble – a crisis that will result in massive impoverishment.
"Follow the Constitution!" emote crowds. Yet there is a very real chance that many of these same voices will elect a Republican who swaggers on past any serious plan to downsize debt or obey the rule of law. Most of the leading Republican candidates are funded by the very corporate interests that directly benefit from maintaining the current system.
Occupy Wall Street signs often share my concern for corporate control of politics. Their charge is correct; Wall Street is pick-pocketing the poor and middle class. Thanks to government bailouts, loans and regulations, the financial giants' mistakes were spread throughout the entire economy. Yet many of these protesters call for more government control over markets. Some even think the current administration – staffed by friends of GE, Goldman Sachs and AIG – is itching to challenge corporate political influence.
Both movements need to understand the definition of government. President Obama nailed it when describing efforts to privatize Iraq efforts: "What essentially sets a nation-state apart [is] a monopoly on violence." The president's description echoes a figure closer to tea-party hearts, George Washington: "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master." Government is the fire Wall Street used to set our house ablaze.
Yes, corporations can be greedy. But they cannot force their will absent of government. Force is the exclusive service of government. Oil companies are imbibed with political power because subsidies and regulations eliminate competition. Mortgage banks entice poor people into risky loans because they will always be bailed out. The economy faces continual booms and busts because money, one half of every transaction, is centrally priced by a quasi-government agency called the Federal Reserve System.
The irony of a marriage between Occupy Wall Street and the tea party is that, in order for it to succeed, it must stand for a great divorce. It must end the marriage of government and corporations. Washington must be divorced from Wall Street. In the absence of force, corporations cannot exploit.
Occupy Wall Street and the tea party have our attention. Together, they could become an unstoppable force for positive change. But first, they must recognize the true source of our economic problems: government. Old flames die hard.