Paul Krugman's Oct. 9 op-ed Panic of the Plutocrat hits the nail on the head when he surmises that the almost rabid reaction of politicians on the right to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations is evidence of their fear about sharpening scrutiny of the uber-rich. He notes the "hysterical reaction" of various on the right.
Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.
And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”
Oh, and Herbert Cain stated that anybody that wants to get rich can, and that seemed to be that for him--the OWS people just haven't tried hard enough.
The over-reaction, Krugman notes, is more revealing about the reactors than about the protestors--"the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists”. Id.
They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny.
It is still not clear whether the OWS movement will have legs. But what it has done is create a shift in the national conversation. National news media have begun to broaden the scope of their coverage from celebrity watching to considering the question of what it is like to drop into poverty at mid-life. The demonstrations have provided a framework for those questions, and the response of politicians like Cantor and Romney are limned against that framework. Mobs? Class warfare? Unamerican? No. These are people who are engaging in the fundamental right of free speech to make their voices heard.
The presupposition of a need to repress those voices that lurks in the descriptors "unAmerican" and "mobs" is worrisome. Using force to quell a protest is what the military government in Egypt is doing, and the other dictatorships in response to the Arab spring. We are supposed to be a land where citizens can freely criticize their government, the status qo, the financial system. It's time to stop the name-calling and start listening to the issues being raised.