The Agenda

An Argument Against Taking Occupy Wall Street Seriously

Yesterday, Reihan wrote that labor unions and groups like MoveOn should hesitate before getting into bed with Occupy Wall Street, given its anarchist roots. Then I went on CBC News to debate a representative of OWS, and came away convinced that Reihan is exactly right.

You should watch the video, partly because it is the most (unintentionally) hilarious TV interview I have ever done. You might say that the OWS rep blathers incoherently, but there are actually two important takeaways from his comments.

One is that, as is typical for OWS, he is unwilling to set out any actual policy goals that the movement wants—except for, and this is a direct quote, “a Glass-Steingold Tax, or whatever that is.”

The other is that the structure of his comments is broadly anarchistic—he says OWS doesn’t need policies because they will create social change by “building a model society” in Zuccotti Park, where people share food and sleeping pads according to their needs and arrive at decisions through discussion and consensus. I guess the idea is that the American people will give up capitalism once they see how wonderful it is to camp out in a park and dress up like Zombies.

Matt Yglesias has written that labor unions and other more mainstream left-wing organs need to co-opt the OWS protests as a vessel for a more concrete policy agenda. Presumably, his model is along the lines of the Tea Party, where disparate and sometimes extreme activists have, more often than not, played ball with the Republican Party and its associated entities.

But I’m not sure that will work for OWS, because too many of its participants may simply be too extreme. If you reject the mixed capitalist economy and representative democracy, how do you fit within a political coalition broadly aligned with the Democratic Party, even its left flank? It’s a much more fundamental rejection of the American political and social system than, say, wanting to repeal Social Security.

I suspect that the only thing holding OWS together is policy ambiguity. Some of the protesters want to reform the system; others want to smash it to bits. If you get too specific about policy, how do you keep those people marching together? But Yglesias’s co-option strategy would involve injecting at least some policy specificity.

So, Reihan is right and progressives should be careful where they step, as this dog is not likely to hunt. But the dance between the anarchists and the labor unions will be fun for me to watch from the sidelines. 

Most Popular

Sports

Hurray for the NBA

Last month, just before the Final Four, I did a Q&A on college basketball with our Theodore Kupfer. Teddy K. is back, by popular demand, joined by two other experts: Vivek Dave, an old friend of mine from Michigan, who has long lived in Chicago, and David French, National Review’s Kentucky Kid, now ... Read More
Economy & Business

Trade Misunderstandings

I was distracted by other policy topics last week but not enough not to notice Peter Navarro’s article in the Wall Street Journal, headlined “China’s Faux Comparative Advantage.” Considering Navarro’s position in the White House, it is unfortunate that it demonstrates some serious misunderstandings ... Read More
Culture

Monday Links

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions. Can You Solve These 10 Medieval Riddles? The cost to make a Margherita pizza: $1.77. How much restaurants charge on average for a pizza: $12. The actual costs of restaurant foods. Vintage animation lessons -- how to make things cute. London's "Great ... Read More
World

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Syria Quandary

President Trump raised eyebrows recently when he ended a tweet lauding the airstrikes he’d ordered against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria with the words “mission accomplished.” The phrase, of course, became infamous in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when President Bush used it in a speech ... Read More