The Occupation movement, if we may call it that, may peter out as big money hopes it will in the chill of winter and the distraction of presidential politics. But it will not share the fate of its twin, the Tea Party, which was to be co-opted by the very forces that caused its rage.
Occupy Wall Street's protesters and all its lineage from Jonesboro to Madrid have a clearer sense of what they are mad about: greed, how it manifests itself and how it poisons the country for everyone. The Tea Party, not so much.
You never know where or how far an inchoate social movement will go, but this one may strike a chord with the silent populace more than did the Tea Party and its rage against government in all its forms.
There is the same aura of helplessness in both movements. Remember the woman's wail "I want my country back" at a town hall meeting in Little Rock in 2009 that was dominated by Tea Partiers? You hear the same sentiment if not the words at the Occupation rallies.
The Tea Party, which basically is the archconservative wing of the Republican Party, believes everything is the government's fault — the bank and auto bailouts, the economic collapse, the long malaise that followed, gasoline prices. The occupiers know that it's all the fault of greed by corporations and the super wealthy.
They are both right, of course. But the Tea Partiers in the end give the finance industry, the big energy companies and the rest a pass. The government made them do it. It's all about socialism. Now, the Tea Partiers want the government to remove the mild regulations that it put in place to prevent another such catastrophe and while it is at it cut their taxes.
But government — Congress more than the rest — is at fault only because it is more or less owned by industry. For 30 years, the policies of government have facilitated the massive gravitation of wealth to the financial and energy sectors and to about 1 percent of the population, a concentration unseen since Calvin Coolidge or perhaps the Gilded Age.
The occupiers know that the country is sliding into a sinister manifestation, but it is not socialism but the opposite, an oligarchy that is run by and for the few with the consent of the many.
It did not end with the bailouts, necessary as they probably were. It continues apace even in the bitterly divided Congress. When there is something big business really, really wants, all sides come together.
Take the legislation to create a tax holiday for big multinational corporations. The likes of Pfizer and Qualcomm are sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in earnings in foreign subsidiaries and won't bring it home because they would have to pay the 35 percent tax on net income that they owe. A bipartisan bill in the Senate and a Republican bill in the House would give them a window of time to repatriate their earnings and pay a tax of only 5.25 percent (the Republican House bill) or 8.75 percent (the Senate bill).
They justify rewarding the scofflaws by saying that the little money the treasury would collect the next two years would reduce the budget deficit and that all that cash coming home would be used to create jobs. It's not the usual conservative anti-tax thing. A big champion is Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, Wall Street's favorite liberal lion.
But it is what it is—a giveaway to big political contributors.
Congress did the same thing in 2004, when Republicans held the presidency and both houses of Congress. The offshore tax holiday was supposed to produce an economic boom. It didn't create a single job. The companies brought $300 billion home but distributed it in dividends and stock repurchases for shareholders and executives.
After a single year of revenue inflow for the treasury, it magnified the deficits. That is due to happen again. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that this repatriation bill would add $80 billion to the national debt over the next decade. But, as Dick Cheney said, who cares about deficits? The same report, by the way, concluded the obvious: By rewarding bad behavior, tax holidays encourage companies and their accountants to search for new ways to shift profits and jobs offshore and avoid taxes.
But in Congress jobs and deficits are only things to wail about. The wishes of big contributors are things to act upon.
You sense that this is the system the occupiers want to change. Good luck with that.