ONE PERSPECTIVE: Finally, the left finds its voice

By Stephen B. Young

The Daily Record Newswire

Since September 2008, I have been waiting for the left to protest Wall Street's greed and its tanking of global credit markets. The silence on the left has been a mystery to me. Every financial market crash since the late 1800s has been followed by a depression and/or recession along with the left shouting, "We told you so! Capitalism rests on greed, so let's regulate the capitalists to eliminate their greed!"

But not this time -- until now. Suddenly and belatedly, the left has just been heard from. The Occupy Wall Street movement is now three weeks old and has triggered demonstrations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin and Minneapolis.

The Tea Party now has its ideological rival back in full voice. Classic populism of the right now meets classic populism of the left.

The Tea Party arose first to direct fear and anger away from the wealthy toward government with its call to limit government. Now the Occupy Wall Street movement directs fear and anger against the wealthy with a call to expand government.

The Tea Party is more suburban and small town while the Occupy Wall Street demographic is far more urban. The traditional base of the left has been urban workers and intellectuals, going back to the French Revolution.

I wonder if the Occupy Wall Street movement will have an impact on our politics over the next election cycle. I think it will. It will divert attention away from the Tea Party message and encourage more and more demands for government intervention in the economy to right the wrongs committed by hubris and shortsighted excess on the part of Wall Street.

The motivation behind the Occupy Wall Street movement is classic populism: The wealthy and big business have brought us down. Movement participants -- as decentralized and anarchic as the Tea Party founders ever were -- say they represent the "disenfranchised." They demand an economy that will work for all of us, not just for those with a lot of money. Their inchoate demand is that "something has to change." Just what needs to change they don't seem to know.

But they are angry, calling profits of Wall Street financiers "theft," which is a strong word.

They say that "people have simply had enough." They are fed up that "the middle class is no more."

Less government is not an option for them. The Tea Party has no solution directly responding to their anger and to their perceptions of who is at fault.

Participants in Occupy Wall Street rallies will make real intellectual trouble for the Tea Party and the current Republican candidates for president. Their criticisms of Wall Street are not idle chatter or foolish illusions but reflect what many Americans have seen and come to believe. The current recession was not caused by Main Street, and the wealthy seem not to have suffered as much in relative terms -- joblessness, homes under water financially, evaporation of retirement cushions -- as ordinary Americans have.

Dealing with government debt is not the first concern of those who blame Wall Street; jobs are more important to their economic needs. And they don't trust business to deliver any benefits to them, so giving business a lift with no taxes and less regulation (as the Tea Party and Republican presidential candidates propose) makes little sense to these new voices of our democracy.

Their new presence in the marketplace of policy ideas will give President Barack Obama's re-election campaign a boost and will put pressure on the House Republicans to pass a jobs bill.

I feel as though we are really back in the 1930s once again -- the left wants regulation of markets and those who profit from the markets want government to leave them alone. Then economic fears drove the voices for regulation to political victory over Alf Landon and his call for laissez-faire, limited government. It can happen again.

Politics doesn't always respond to ideas but more often to circumstances. Business in America today has not delivered a stable financial system sustaining household net worth; nor is it investing in enough jobs that people can see, touch, and feel. A real debate about what to do has now been joined between the Tea Party and the left.

Published: Fri, Oct 14, 2011