Watching news coverage of the recent riots in New York by Occupy Wall Street I am struck by what is not said. Nowhere do we find the words ‘populist’ or ‘extremist,’ or ‘racist.’
Yet reporters such as the BBC’s Mark Mardell make continuing efforts to describe the rioters as a form of left wing Tea Party, and the Tea Party is usually described as a populist movement and often termed extremist and even more frequently damned as racist.
It is easy to understand why the New York rioters, unlike the Tea Party, are not described as a populist movement, it’s because they are not particularly popular.
However, ‘populist’ is also the political equivalent of the theological term ‘fundamentalist’ which has become little more than an ecclesiastical swear word denoting anyone who is slightly more theologically conservative than the speaker and so need not be given any consideration by thoughtful people. In the same fashion ‘populist’ has become a political swear word denoting people or movements from outwith the establishment who are popular yet have different views from those of the speaker. As a consequence their views need not be given consideration by serious commentators. The effects of ‘populist’ movements as they disrupt political business as usual can be seriously debated, but their views can be safely dismissed.
‘Populist’ in effect denotes those who hold political positions which resonate with the people rather than with the intellectual and media elites. The New York rioters on the other hand hold political positions which resonate with the intellectual and media elite rather than with the people.
The recent riots are incoherent cries of rage from well educated Romantic nihilists who are angry that what they see as their entitlements may be taken from them. OWS is little more than a gathering of uber-cool middle-class performance artists masquerading as a political movement. That they are now being supported by the unions tells us more about the political acumen of the American unions than it does about the intellectual coherence of the OWS protestors.
OWS claim that they want Obama re-elected, yet they are protesting against the actions of the denizens of Wall Street, the very people who dropped their biggest ever election contribution into Obama’s coffers. These are the same people whom Obama later bailed out at the expense of the taxpayer.
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street both have genuine grievances concerning the political and economic system such as handouts to ‘too big to fail’ institutions. The very real differences between the groups is how they wish to remedy the situation.
A widely circulated OWS ‘proposed list of demands’ calls for ‘immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the ‘Books.’’
Some people clearly haven’t been taking their dried frog pills. If any political demand could be described as extreme it would be this. Such cancellation of all debt would automatically mean the destruction of the entire global financial system and consequent untold misery and mayhem throughout creation. Yet nowhere are OWS described as extremists.
When the Tea Party held a nationwide open air protest across 40 cities in 2009 their activists didn’t block traffic, didn’t sleep on pavements, didn’t wear ski masks, didn’t fight with the police or urinate on the pavement in public. Whether or not you agree with their politics it has to be admitted that they advanced serious policy arguments which were open to discussion. They did not make strident demands that society abolish itself, instead they calmly petitioned their government. They even picked up their litter after the events. Yet they are regularly described in the media as ‘extremists.’
From news reports it is apparent that OWS is practically a completely white movement, not that its racial composition validates or invalidates its position. However, the Tea Party movement also is largely, although by no means completely, a white movement and is often accused of being either openly or inherently racist. Such esteemed political thinkers as Morgan Freeman and Samuel L Jackson have made the accusation in the last month. After all if you oppose the policies of the first black American president the only conceivable reason has to be that you are a racist.
This despite the fact that polls indicate the favoured Tea Party candidate at the next election is Herman Cain, a man who is of much darker hue than the half white Obama. If the nearly all white OWS oppose the black president Obama’s bailout of the banks why are they not considered racists?
And no, of course the media doesn’t have an agenda, perish the thought. How could anyone be so cynical that they would think that?