In this weeks mailbag we discuss the role of the Occupy Wall St movement in this years election, Chez's career at CNN, and the disastrous state of the Republican Party!
Hey guys, wanted to know what you thought about the OWS movement. Do you think it has changed anything so far, and do you think it will play a role in the general election?
Chez: The Occupy movement has certainly provided a much-needed call-to-arms when it comes to the economic injustice and often criminal behavior inflicted on America by Wall Street and the corporatist mentality. It was both a response to and a way of finally calling global attention to the way a handful of greedy assholes had screwed the planet, had done so with impunity, and had continued to do so long after the damage they caused was obvious to everyone. That said, though, I don't think it'll play a direct role in the presidential election simply because the Republicans -- at least the ones who want to win in November -- can't risk demonizing the entire movement because they then risk demonizing the spirit of the movement. I say that, of course, even though dolts like Mitt Romney have been dumb enough to come right out and say that what the Occupiers represent is the politics of envy. But the fact that his statement was considered somewhat of a gaffe, one among many for the Romneybot, says something about what a fine line the GOP is going to have to walk in dealing with the movement; they'll want to attack the Occupiers themselves -- and have, over and over -- without necessarily ripping on the spirit of the populist message they stand for. As for the Democrats, I think they'll probably try to co-opt the message without involving themselves directly with any of the Occupy movement -- in other words, no, don't look for Occupy to play even close to the kind of role the Tea Party insurgents played with their ostensible leaders a couple of years back. The Dems will push the spirit of the outrage and possibly even try to attach themselves to that wave of populist anger in the hope of using it to their obvious advantage, but I doubt seriously that President Obama will align himself with Occupy by name. Worth mentioning, by the way, is that the exhaustingly self-righteous progressive cool kids -- the Jane Hamshers and Michael Moores of the world -- have already anointed themselves the True Believers in and Official Arbiters of Occupy and have ruled from on high that it's off limits to the Democrats anyway, since they just represent the man, man!
You know, now that I think about it, take back what I said about the Republicans. They'll continue to either violently shake their fists at and belittle any expression of populist anger aimed at Wall Street or simply ignore it altogether -- because they're fucking insane (see question #3).
Bob: I've honestly been a little ambivalent about OWS. While I like and support the spirit of fighting against income inequality, I've had ongoing concerns about the scattered and undefined goals of the movement. How do they plan to change the system without a defined set of legislative goals? Is there anyone stepping forward with a defined agenda? In the interest of full disclosure, I've also been skeptical about the practical impact of on-the-ground protests. Often they can be rudderless and ineffectual, and OWS runs the risk of losing public support unless it gives the public something substantive to push for. In other words, yes, we get it -- the 1% doesn't pay its fair share in taxes and it doesn't sacrifice enough when the economy shrinks. We know the gripes, we just don't know how OWS intends to repair the problem, therefore how can we support a movement in a full-throated way if we're unsure of how it intends to achieve change. And there aren't any leaders to tell us. I certainly don't want to support a movement that pushes for communism or the destruction of the economy. OWS might not have that in mind, but without expressed goals, who knows?
Ben: I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has been incredibly important for the sole reason that it has shown Americans that genuine popular resistance is possible. The culture we live in works to isolate us through a mixture of relentless commercialism and fear. On a minute to minute basis, we are urged to buy our way into happiness with fancy products sold to us by people more successful and beautiful than ourselves. The end result is a deeply paranoid and greedy culture where people simply don't believe that they can, or should, work together for a common purpose. The spectacular theft of a gigantic proportion of the country's wealth by Wall St was a step too far though, and the population reacted with a coherent and (somewhat) organized uprising. There are many structural problems with OWS - no one knows exactly what they want, or who is leading them, but they symbolize a unified resistance to the dominant culture. I think they can have an effect in the general election if they get specific, so we'll have to wait and see.
Hey Chez, I read on your Wikipedia page that you were fired from CNN. Would you ever go back to working in the MSM after the way you were treated? And Bob, would you ever become an MSNBC personality?
- Stewart Wright
Chez: For the right job and the right money? Yeah, of course. I'm not stupid. Now as to whether any of the mainstream press outlets would have me back -- that's a different story. I've always maintained that it was CNN's prerogative to fire me; I was an employee at their company and I broke the rules. My argument at the time was that the network didn't actually have a rule in place to break, at least not one that took into account the rise of social media. I was proven right, I think, by the fact that not long after firing me, CNN put together and released a new set of guidelines and restrictions for its employees in how they can and can't avail themselves of online communication. The new rules were and are, needless to say, draconian and thoroughly unfeasible in the current media climate. Still, I had some idea that what I was doing could be perilous to my job -- I just didn't think the response would be so swift, severe and ultimately short-sighted for the company. As for how they treated me, though -- they made me a name, albeit a minor one, and helped me make a career out of media criticism, writing, producing non-news shows, and generally doing something other than busting my ass at what was a pretty crappy job in cable news. So there's that. But yeah -- throw enough money at me and promise you'll stay at least somewhat out of my way and let me work and I'd go back.
Bob: I would love to be on MSNBC, though I don't know if they'd ever hire me. I've been quite critical of their daytime programming and even if that never came up, I really don't like doing television -- at least not the standard cable news format. I've appeared on MSNBC and CNN, but it wasn't productive or interesting. I like to carry on spontaneous conversations and debates, and cable news isn't really formatted for spontaneity. I'd love to do a show one of these days, but it would have to be a format I was comfortable with.
Hi Ben, Chez, Bob, I'm curious to see what you think about the future of the Republican Party. It seems they become more extreme each year, so where does it end? Will moderates ever dominate the party again? I dont think they will ever beat the Democrats if they continue to act like this.
Ben: Hi Mary, I think that the Republicans are suffering from a severe lack of vision for the future. The major problem is that competing factions don't agree on where they want to go - the Religious Right wants to go back to the 1950's, the Tea Partiers want to get rid of the government, the hard Right wants to continue destroying the Middle East, and the moderates simply want to win elections. Elections are won in the center, and the party just has too many extreme wings going in different directions. I say this without hyperbole, but I believe the current incarnation of the Republican Party is completely insane. In any other modern democracy, they'd be considered borderline fascists and relegated to the fringes of political debate. No mainstream politician in the UK, France or Germany could openly disagree with global warming, discount evolution, or try to redefine the definition of rape in order to limit abortions. Both parties have to cater to all its members to get the vote out, but the Democrats have a far easier time given their 'extremists' would be considered pretty centrist anywhere else on the planet. The GOP on the other hand has to appeal to racist, anti government lunatics to get votes, then tack carefully back to the center without alienating them. It's next to impossible to do, and it means they're screwed for at least a generation when it comes to winning general elections.
Bob: The Republicans are rapidly marginalizing themselves by clinging too closely to the far-right base. The consequence is a fractured, factionalized, regional party with very little appeal to the moderate, undecided voter. And as we've seen in recent elections, the moderates choose the winners -- not the far-left or far-right. So to answer your question, I don't think moderates have any influence in the party anymore. The ones who are getting anywhere are doing so by pandering to the far-right. Now that's not to say they won't ever win an election. The Democrats are saddled with being "the responsible party" and that means they have to make tough choices in order to govern. They're bound to piss people off. Likewise, it's really easy to be the Republican bumper-sticker salesman on the fringes saying things people want to hear, even though those things aren't functional policies. A good example is Ron Paul. He says lots of things that appeal to voters across the board, but never in the history of the world has there been a successful libertarian government with a prosperous economy and happy citizens. So there's always a shot that a Republican will come along who keeps the far-right in their cages and who pays attention to the middle. That might be Jeb Bush, but who the hell wants another Bush presidency? The party is a mess right now, and, short of the Democrats defeating themselves, it's really going to take a Republican rock star with just the right appeal to be successful.
Chez: I've written about this subject quite a bit lately. What we're witnessing right now are the death throes of the Republican party as we've known it for the past few decades. It simply can't survive much longer in its present incarnation; it's literally being demographically pushed to extinction. It's inevitable. As Jonathan Chait wrote recently, the GOP has been the party of older, white Christians -- particularly older, white Christian men -- for years, and the question for a while was, "How would the party respond to political reality, namely the fact that the United States is becoming browner and more integrated ethnically?" The smart thing to do would've been to reach out to those (for the time being) minorities and try to get them under the tent. Unfortunately, that's not at all what happened. The election of Barack Obama was the confirmation of the far-right conservatives' worst fears: that they were losing the country that the slavishly lionized Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, had bequeathed to them and them alone. Obama's rise represented the apotheosis of the threat that had been encroaching for years -- the one that finally arrived. That's where all that "take our country back" crap came from. What has to happen next, if the Republicans are to survive as a party, is a William F. Buckley-style repudiation of the fringe rather than a wholehearted, full-throated embrace of it. Will that happen? Probably not for a while. Until the Republicans finally realize that they can't win national elections like this and that they have no choice but to tell the crazies among them to sit down and shut the hell up.
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