Is the conservative approach to the Occupy Movement healthy and constructive? Or are we shooting ourselves in the foot by demonizing the protestors?
(Posted by Bryana Joy on January 17th)
“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.”
Since the Greek philosopher Plato issued this warning over two millennia ago, humankind have had occasion to observe the truth of his statement over and over again throughout the course of history as bloody conflicts, economic hardships, social upheavals and natural disasters have led to the rise of brutal dictatorships.
America has been experiencing her share of domestic unrest over the past several months. As unemployment figures have gone up and government corruption continues to be exposed, tensions have mounted. In September of 2011, a protest crusade began which has had a significant impact on the world’s political scene: Occupy Wall Street. It’s big, it’s angry, and it hasn’t always behaved very well in public. But in order to better understand the significance of the movement, and the opportunities and dangers it presents, we need to back up just a few decades and take a look at the troubled history of another nation.
Upon the conclusion of War World I, Germany, as one of the major aggressor nations in the conflict, was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, ceding 13 percent of its home territory and all of its overseas colonies and agreeing to make hefty reparations payments for the damage and destruction of property which were the results of the First World War. The treaty also included an infamous war guilt clause, by which the nation agreed to take full responsibility for the war. Germany’s first democratically elected Chancellor—Philipp Scheidemann--chose to resign rather than sign the treaty, which ended up devastating the German economy and subjecting its people to incredible humiliation.
Protective tariffs placed on German goods by foreign countries contributed in large part to the German Great Depression, and the collapse of the stock market in the U.S. on Black Tuesday also affected the German economy negatively. The nation was not able to make its reparations payments and the German government began to print money. A three-year episode of hyperinflation followed. By 1933, there were six million people unemployed in Germany.
Enter the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The political leaders of this party understood that the key to power over the German people lay in a policy that offered sympathy with their sufferings. They centered their campaigns on slogans of German greatness which extended confidence to a beaten and defeated nation that desperately wanted to believe in itself again. They promised full employment to a populace with a 30% unemployment rate. They staged violent protests that offered young people a way to vent their pent-up frustrations. As Martin Gilbert explains in A History of the Twentieth Century, the party
“…continued to offer [the unemployed] a direction both for their emotional bitterness and their physical energies.”
The party also boasted a strong leader with bold plans and an eccentric personality. This man was Adolf Hitler, and the party is better known today as the Nazi party. You know the rest of the story.
Although on a much smaller scale and with some very obvious differences, we have a similar situation in America today. Like post-WWI Germany we have unemployment, unrest and violent protesting. And, like post-WWI Germany, we have a population that is becoming increasingly reckless and vulnerable to rhetoric. The anger of the citizenry exploded late last year, resulting in a movement that has gained traction and attention worldwide.
We’ve heard two stories about the Occupy Movement. While the Daily Mail showcases a gallery of photos that depict the Occupiers as orderly citizens cleaning up after themselves, abused by the police, and willingly enduring hardships in order to effectively protest corporate greed and government corruption, Breitbart shares video footage of Occupy activists who are apparently confused about the purpose of the movement, activists who are well-known anti-Semites, and activists who call themselves Marxist communists and socialists. Todd Kinsey shares photos of far greater embarrassments. This hysterical clip of a superlatively agitated Occupy protestor has been triumphantly broadcasted by conservative bloggers as an example of the general Occupy attitude -- although I imagine that even some liberals got a laugh out of it.
No one is exactly sure what the Occupy movement wants as a whole – different groups of protestors seem to have different aims. Some things, however, are clear: the movement is the result of unemployment frustration; it is an attack on crony capitalism and government corruption; it is a haven for Marxist and communist sympathizers, and it is encouraging class warfare.
While some of these aims are admirable, and deserve our support, others are obviously disturbing and perilous to the security of our nation. Unfortunately, Conservatives as a whole have failed to embrace this conflict as an opportunity to distance themselves from unethical business and government practices and to reach out to the confused but rightfully angry protestors and activists with the truth about liberty and fiscal responsibility.
It is disconcerting to realize that the reason the Nazi party was able to successfully exploit the German people’s struggles was because they worked the hardest to identify with them and sympathize with their bitterness. Did the Nazi party really give the people what they wanted? Hardly. Their rise to power precipitated the Second World War which plunged Germany into a bloodbath and depleted the country of its manpower and resources. Nevertheless, because they displayed the most concern for the sufferings of the German populace, they won their allegiance and trust. Likewise, due to the fact that Conservatives have failed to identify with even the righteous elements of the Occupy protests, the exasperation and energies of the occupiers – many of whom already lean towards socialism – are being exploited by Marxists and by advocates of big government and opponents of personal liberty.
"We are on their side," said President Obama, referring to the protestors. "The most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership letting people know that we understand their struggles." However, the President has received $3.9 million in donations from Wall Street just this year, and has raised over $12 million for the Democratic National Committee - a rather odd set of numbers, given his support for a movement which has its foundation in criticism of Wall Street's financial shenanigans and scandals.
So, let me ask you? Have we really nothing to protest? Is there really no evil at work in our political system that is not worth standing up against? How about the $16 trillion in secret bailouts that the Federal Reserve distributed to U.S. and foreign banks over the past three years? When you realize that our entire GDP is only $14.5 trillion and that neither Congress nor the American public knew anything about these bailouts, you just might feel like carrying a few signs in the streets. How about the new version of the National Defense Authorization Act that President Obama just signed into law this week? When you find out that the controversial clause in this bill leaves the door open for military detention of United States citizens without trial, for “association in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” or “belligerent acts,” against the U.S., you just might feel like hosting a demonstration at Grand Central Station.
I would issue a challenge to my conservative friends: rather than demonizing the Occupy movement, a course which only serves to create more enemies of conservatism, why aren’t we joining them by staging protests of our own, taking the focus off of entitlement whining and putting it back on the real fiscal corruption? Instead of bashing them and making fun of them, why aren’t we devoting our energy to educating them and mobilizing them to fight the current government system which seeks to take advantage of their passion and snooker them of their votes?