The following is one of the rarest of creatures: A political LJ post from Dave. (For that matter, any LJ post from Dave.) Might not happen again for a couple years.
So I was at the Finger Lakes Grass Roots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, N.Y., on Friday with my friend D. After a fine and mesmerizing day of zydeco, Americana, sacred-steel, bluegrass and more -- and I would highly recommend, among others, Driftwood, the Campbell Brothers and Keith Secola and His Wild Band of Indians -- we settled into the "Cabaret" building for a couple punk acts. The latter, Atomic Forces, closed out its brief set of inspired noize with some 10 minutes of agitprop from the charismatic lead singer Park Doing about the Citizens United ruling and the undue influence it gives corporations, which already wreak disproportionate influence due to the founders/controlling shareholders' wealth; he specifically referred to the Walton family of Walmart fame. My friend D -- who self-identifies as a conservative albeit with socially liberal stances on issues such as same-sex marriage and the like -- was annoyed at the invective leveled at the wealthy and successful. She asked, Why is it a bad thing for a successful family, like the Walmart people for instance, to make all that money? Why the Walton hate?
Upon thinking about it further, I realize this hits upon one of the main disconnects we see and hear in current U.S. political discourse when issues of economic disparity are raised -- because someone invariably accuses whomever raises the issue of encouraging "class warfare"; of seeking to punish those who've worked hard and become successful (and to automatically suspect base motivations and sinister means on their part); of just plain expressions of envy.
But the thing is -- No. Nobody, other than some hardcore Marxists or whatnot, begrudge successful people the fruits of their success. The Occupy movement, as I understand it, wasn't a protest of the 1 percent's wealth or success ...
... It was a protest of their influence, of their access to policymakers and the leverage their money gives them in seeking to influence policy. People talk about a disaffected and apathetic electorate ... but can you blame the citizenry when most know that, although Joe Public and Joe CEO (and for that matter Joe Hollywood) are all Americans and all theoretically equal in citizenship and in access to their representatives ... Joe Public knows that the people in Congress and the people who aspire to be in Congress and the people in the White House and the people who aspire to be in the White House are far more interested in the views of Joe CEO and Joe Hollywood than those of Joe Public. Both parties court both of the other Joes, and the Republicans have more luck with Joe CEO and the Democrats have more luck with Joe Hollywood, and Joe Public wonders why he even votes. Until and unless he hooks up with other disaffected and discouraged Joe Publics. And this, to me -- in what's assuredly a sweeping and ridiculously oversimplified generalization -- explains the rise of both the Occupy movement and the Tea Party.
So why is such a simple distinction often lost? Why do so many people think that resentment stems from envy of success/wealth rather than the disparity in political access, in the way that, in our current system, money serves as a megaphone or amplifier of one's political voice?
A number of reasons, I think. Partly there's been a failure on a lot of people in Occupy and similar movements to articulate their position well -- many do, of course, but some have given the impression that they just hate the Rich Folk. And partly the mass media these days is, well, pretty pathetic when it comes to explaining anything complex, with context (and I say this as a journalist myself, or at least a proofreader, which is kinda close). And partly because a lot of people on the "other side" deliberately distort that distinction, and make it look like anyone concerned about disparity of access is just a resentful do-nothing communist who hates successful people (or, more alarmist, an army of budding Robespierres who would chop the American aristocracy in their own equivalent of the Reign of Terror. There are people who think the disparity in access to government is the way it should be -- is only fair and just -- as long as their side is the one that's being listened to. Who believe that Money Talks -- and furthermore, that's the way it should be.
Personally, I begrudge nobody their wealth, however much or little it may be, provided it was made honestly and scrupulously. What I do object to is the sense that our government is bought and paid for -- that the only people whose views matter are the wealthy and powerful (Orwellishly termed "job creators" whether or not they've created a single job). In other words, the 1 percent aren't the problem -- the politicians who choose to listen solely to that 1 percent, they're the problem.