We may be the 99% against the 1% but the 99% are split into 49.5% to the left and 49.5% to the right. At the moment the right can't see enough common cause with the left to vote out the 1%. The fear of the left is still too strong. A few more disasters and a few politicians of the left who may actually stand up to the 1% and say something sensible and it may happen though.Straining for the populist mandate
Oct 14th 2011, 13:21 by W.W. | IOWA CITY
A SERIES of tweets yesterday from Chris Hayes, presenter of MSNBC's "Up With Chris Hayes", about the "We are the 99%" rhetoric associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement led me to a perhaps obvious thought I think is nonetheless worth pursuing toward some non-obvious conclusions.
Mr Hayes says, "I think the 99% message is brilliant, true and gets at something profound and widely shared by folks who aren't liberals." In response to this, and an earlier message from Mr Hayes defending polarisation, David Roberts of Grist tweeted: "But polarizing who against who? That's the contest right now. Is it right v. left or 99% v. 1%. Framing battle in realtime..." And Mr Hayes replied: "exactly. I'm saying that very powerful interests will brand this as 'left' rather than 99%. We should be clear eyed about that."
But isn't it true that the Occupy Wall Street movement and the "We are the 99%" message are creations of the left and embraced predominantly by the left? When Mr Hayes says that the 99% message is brilliant and true, what does he have in mind? I suppose it is that our political economy is rigged, especially with regard to financial economy, to benefit a relatively small number of powerful people at the top of the income distribution. I think this belief is indeed "widely shared by folks who aren't liberals". For example, I believe it, and I'm not a liberal in the sense Mr Hayes intends. Certainly, conservatives affiliated with the tea-party movement have vehemently attacked the bank bail-outs during the financial crisis, and the belief that the bail-outs were necessary to contain the financial crisis has become something of an albatross for Republican office-seekers. Still, perusing the "We are the 99%" Tumblr, it's hard not to conclude that the participants are not future Mitt Romney supporters. Which raises the obvious question: If "we" really are the 99%, why have we failed to use our overwhelming democratic heft to set in place reforms that would unrig the system and put the 1% in their place? The obvious answer there is a great deal of ideological disagreement within the lower 99% of the income distribution, and even if a large majority agrees that Wall Street is ripping off the nation, there is no consensus about what should be done about it.
When Mr Hayes says that "very powerful interests will brand this as 'left' rather than 99%", he is right, if by "very powerful interests" he means "all the Americans who recognise that the 99%-er message is coming almost entirely from the left". This is certainly a large and powerful group, commonly knows as "Republicans". Leaders of the tea-party movement early on went out of their way to insist that theirs is an ideologically ecumenical movement, but I think we all knew this was nonsense. Similarly, there is no real framing battle over the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement. It is a movement of the left, even if antagonism toward Wall Street is a bipartisan passion.
Why then do smart progressives like Mr Hayes want to insist that the "We are the 99%" message is a non-partisan one? Well, a populist mandate is nice to have. Progressives have seen the electoral consequences of the tea-party movement's successful occupation of the populist low-ground, and they'd like to occupy it for a little while, too, perhaps to similar electoral effect. But there's more to it than that. The 99% message is an economic class-war message, even if it puts all but 1% of us on the righteous side of the class divide. Economic class-war messages are of the left just as surely as American-authenticity culture-war messages are of the right. Moreover, the "we are the 99%" rhetoric nicely reinforces what I like to call the "progressive master narrative", according to which runaway economic inequality enables an enormously wealthy elite to gut our democratic institutions and bend them to their mean designs, overriding the authentic will of the many. If it happens that a majority of Americans oppose the particular policies that progressives favour, this is just evidence that our democracy has been largely captured by the rich already. If conservative populism expresses any authentic, native ideological instincts, it has been co-opted by plutocrat running dogs like Americans for Prosperity, the likes of whom also blind the public to the really crucial truth: that there really is a class war—that it really is us, the 99%, against the crooked, opulent remainder. That's the objective reality of the situation. If we fail to see it, we're probably being used. Those who would resist the "99% v 1%" framing in favour of the "left v right" framing are probably unwitting tools acting against their own objective interests. That the "left v right" framing seems so obvious only goes to show just how low we've been brought. So, Obama 2012!
Then we have the problem of what the 1% will do to maintain their position. Another war against a foreign devil would be favourite. They're building up the bogey man of Iran quite well at the moment. China would be the obvious and most natural enemy/competitor and easiest to portray as the baddy but they're too strong militarily. Iran is not big enough to be a really significant opponent so they will probably be the chosen one.