Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blowing in the Wind

I never learned to love the smell of tear gas in the morning, but a new generation is finding out how they feel about it.  Copious clouds of tear gas enveloped Occupy protesters in Oakland, CA on Tuesday night, and judging from the footage I saw on TV, things are a little different than during the Vietnam War protests.  I don't recall tear gas hitting with such explosive force, and police now have other "non-lethal" weapons like flash grenades and rubber bullets.  But one protester was critically injured during the police assault--a Marine vet, who survived two tours in Iraq but was felled on the streets of his own country.

This example only sharpens the analogy that Frank Rich makes to the Bonus Army encampments and their destruction at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Hoover was President, and such later military luminaries as MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower got some practice routing unarmed and jobless Great War veterans, some of whom immediately joined the one million men riding the rails.

Rich says that just as military violence against the Bonus Army (in Washington to protest that they were not receiving their promised war bonuses) inflamed public sentiment to the Bonus Army side when these scenes were shown in movie theatre newsreels, so YouTubed police violence against The 99% demonstrators has galvanized public support for them.  Rich pointedly does not make an analogy to Vietnam protests, when the opposite happened, so I'm not as sure as he is that public opinion won't turn against Occupy.  But he seems pretty certain:

    "These efforts to domesticate and contain the protests are unlikely to succeed. It is not frustration that’s roiling America but anger, the anger of a full-fledged class war. Try as polite company keeps trying to ignore it, that war has been building in this country and abroad for much of this decade and has been waged in earnest in America since the fall of 2008."

A Congressional Budget Office study adds more informational fuel to this by calculating just how thoroughly this secret class war has been waged and so far won--by the 1%.  According to the Washington Post summary: "For the 1 percent of the population with the highest incomes, average income grew 275 percent between 1979 and 2007, the report said. Middle-income Americans saw just less than a 40 percent rise during the same period, while the 20 percent of the population on the bottom saw an 18 percent increase."

On Wednesday, congressional GOPers led by Paul Ryan tried to turn up the heat on protesters and make President Obama sound like an outside agitator.  While I am less certain than Rich that public opinion won't turn, there is certainly a lot more public support for the Occupy positions than there ever was during the antiwar era.  Huge majorities favoring taxing the 1% more, say that incomes are too unequal, and that Wall Street is too politically powerful.

Politically all this does seem to be hung around the necks of GOPers.  A hefty majority sees the GOP as primarily looking out for the rich.  And Congress (which in image as well as substance, is GOPer) is polling at an approval rating of 9%.  Not three 9s, just one.  Meanwhile, the Tuesday theme--from an ultraconservative in the New York Post to Morning Joe and the ever-reasonable Pat Robertson--was the disgust of  conservative GOPers for the GOPer presidential field and their Barnum & Bailey politics.  It was orgasmic.

So even though Frank Rich doesn't think that 2012 elections will settle anything--and there's reason to see that in the congressional districts and Senate seats that seem to be in play--there's really no predicting that far into the future at this point.  It's hard to see what happens next with Occupy.  It can't sustain this level of attention for much longer without changing something--either politically or at least in form.

One tipoff for me will be just how many people get to know the name of Scott Olsen, the vet whose skull was fractured in Oakland.  It was just such an event in Tunisia that jumpstarted the entire Arab Spring.

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