Commentary Magazine


The Media’s Occupy Wall Street Delusions

As the Economist’s political outlook has changed on issues throughout the years, the one constant has been the restraining of the written identities of its anonymous contributors in place of a unified “voice of God,” as it’s often referred to. And the real challenge to maintaining this weighty air of authority has never been the complicated issues that seem to cry out for the responsible reflection of the Economist’s on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other consideration. It is, rather, the attempts to wedge clear-cut and fairly ridiculous ideas into this deliberative style.

Can you make just about anything sound plausible if you employ the tone of the unimpeachable? The Economist tested that question in this week’s edition, and the answer is a resounding No. The magazine has a brief write-up of the reunion of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, which it admits has seemingly run out of steam. But then the Economist closes with this paragraph:

Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia School of Journalism and the author of a new book, “Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street”, has explored why Occupy did not become the sort of mass movement that could deliver legislative and regulatory change. He cites over-democratic decision-making in its General Assembly and a later turn to violence by some members. On the other hand, he argues, it succeeded in transforming America’s national conversation, adding to the Lexicon not just the Twitter meme of #occupy but also the notion that the country has become divided into a wealthy 1% and a not-so-lucky 99%. Without this, argues Mr Gitlin, it would have been far harder for Mitt Romney to be attacked simply for being rich, first by Newt Gingrich and then by Barack Obama. If this attack strategy helps win Mr Obama another term, he may have the Occupy movement to thank.

First of all, I can help Gitlin figure out why the Occupy movement didn’t change the world. Violent anarchists who shield the perpetrators of sexual assault, defecate on police cars, and rage against hygiene do not get elected to Congress. Far more remarkable is Gitlin’s assertion that Barack Obama, of all people, would have struggled to attack Mitt Romney as rich without the help of the country’s furious collectivist youth.

But worst of all is the Economist’s last sentence in that paragraph. It’s not attributed to Gitlin, but merely declared by the magazine: if Obama wins reelection by bashing success and hectoring the public about inequality, he can thank Occupy.

In the modern era of American politics, this sentiment is refuted by pretty much every single election cycle. But it’s also refuted by the magazine’s hero-president, Obama. Did the Economist not watch then-candidate Barack Obama attack John McCain in 2008 for having a rich wife? Did it miss Obama telling voters we need to “spread the wealth around”? Did it not watch the truly stunning conversation Obama had with Charlie Gibson at a Democratic primary debate with Hillary Clinton, in which Gibson pointed out to Obama that raising taxes on capital gains does not lead to higher revenue, and Obama responded that revenue wasn’t the issue, but instead that he “would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness”?

The examples abound. Democrats, especially since the Bush tax cuts, have run on the class warfare argument that Republicans just want tax cuts “for the rich” (which, in the Democrats’ world, extends to the middle class with a smattering of regressive taxes on the poor as well) and that Republicans don’t understand the effects of inequality or the need to, in Obama’s terms, “spread the wealth around.”

Now, it’s true that the inequality issue’s profile may have been raised slightly by a credulous media seeing a crowd of Che wannabes in the sea of bored Chomskyites. But it’s safe to say the Obama campaign would have figured out a way to attack Romney’s wealth without the help of confused teenagers.