Newt Gingrich made headlines at Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate for saying he’d fire the Federal Reserve chairman and jail a pair of lawmakers for their role in the financial crisis. But, just before that, he made an important point about the “Occupy Wall Street” protests.
“I think the people who are protesting on Wall Street break into two groups,” the former Georgia congressman said. “One is left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic, and the other is sincere middle-class people, who frankly are very close to the tea party people in actually caring.”
We on the right need to recognize such a distinction if we’re to avoid the same mistake the left made about the early tea partyers: Branding the entire group as a bunch of cranks.
“Cranks,” of course, doesn’t begin to cover the inanity of those OWS folks who have suggested such remedies as granting a “living wage” of at least $20 an hour to everyone, employed or not. (During the course of a year, that nearly equals the U.S. median household income. For not working.) Or my personal favorite: Forgiving all $65 trillion in debts world-wide, whether in default or not.
Yes, if you want to ridicule the OWS crowd, they’ll give you plenty of material. The fact that OWS organizers felt the need to put a disclaimer atop this list of proposals by a “single user” underscores the threat posed by letting the craziest elements of a nascent group become its faces or voices.
But as Gingrich pointed out, the jokes about professional protesters, or Ivy League art history grads with $100,000 in debt but no job prospects, only go so far.
There are lots of Americans who thought they’d played by the rules their whole lives. They finished high school, maybe even college. They saved some money, bought a house and paid the mortgage every month. They worked hard every day and tried to raise their kids to be good citizens. They voted.
Then, due to forces beyond their control, they lost it all, or much of it. And watched as others were bailed out.
Maybe those others were banks. Maybe they were GM and Chrysler workers. Maybe they were liar-loan borrowers who bought more house than they could afford — bailouts for whom were the specific impetus for the modern-day use of “tea party” for a political movement, by CNBC’s Rick Santelli.
Thirty-two months after Santelli’s rant, the concerns of frustrated Americans who tried to play by the rules haven’t been addressed.
Washington’s efforts consist of a tax cut of less than $8 per worker per week called, not ironically, “Making Work Pay” and a payroll tax holiday that amounts to $19 a week for a household earning the median income.
Oh, and there’s also the institutionalization of “too big to fail” in the bill that was supposed to end such moral hazard, the Dodd-Frank Act. You know, the law named for the two congressmen — Rep. Barney Frank and former Sen. Christopher Dodd — Gingrich declared prison-worthy Tuesday for their conflicts of interest in the sector they were supposed to be regulating.
There is no bridge for the gap between those Occupiers who think the solution to crony capitalism is bigger government and more shackles on business, and tea partyers who think the answer is a less powerful federal government and freer markets. But neither is there a good reason to let the new protests Occupy Middle Class Frustration.
Washington is due for a re-ordering. But it cannot be led by the predominant, big-government strain of OWS.
Ending corporate welfare has broad appeal. But it must be done in a way that won’t add to the spending and debt.
Leveling the playing field in the tax code, by removing carveouts designed by and for the politically connected and favored, has broad appeal. But it has to be done in a way that will increase investments in American enterprise and jobs.
Making the U.S. economy more competitive has broad appeal. But it has to be done in a way that doesn’t further entrench the status quo in education, ignore the vast energy resources we have in our own backyard, and threaten to spark a trade war overseas.
None of that is going to come from the people at the core of the OWS movement. But the surest way to give them more power is to make the disillusioned folks at the periphery think they’re the only ones who know there’s a problem.
– By Kyle Wingfield