Will the Wall Street Protestors’ Movement, Be Absorbed into the Democratic Party?

Robert Reich writing in his blog has this to say on the subject

But if Occupy Wall Street coalesces into something like a real movement, the Democratic Party may have more difficulty digesting it than the GOP has had with the Tea Party.

After all, a big share of both parties’ campaign funds comes from the Street and corporate board rooms. The Street and corporate America also have hordes of public-relations flacks and armies of lobbyists to do their bidding – not to mention the unfathomably deep pockets of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey’s and Karl Rove’s SuperPACs. Even if the Occupiers have access to some union money, it’s hardly a match.

Yet the real difficulty lies deeper. A little history is helpful here.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party had no trouble embracing economic populism. It charged the large industrial concentrations of the era – the trusts – with stifling the economy and poisoning democracy. In the 1912 campaign Woodrow Wilson promised to wage “a crusade against powers that have governed us … that have limited our development … that have determined our lives … that have set us in a straightjacket to so as they please.” The struggle to break up the trusts would be, in Wilson’s words, nothing less than a “second struggle for emancipation.”

Reich goes on to analyze the gradual “escape” of the Democratic Party from Populist issues and its transformation into a financial party much like the Republicans. He is, of course, correct – while the movement has some sound bites that seem to the untrained ear to mimic the occasional Democratic politician, the message of the Wall Street Protestors is inimical to the interests of both political parties.

The Republican Party and these Wall Street Protestors are alien to one another but to the Democrats these protestors are only slightly less strange. The Democrats have been selling free market fundamentalism, de-regulation, tax cuts, tax breaks, tax holidays, subsidies, free trade pacts, etc. for years. If that sounds exactly like the Republican Party, it should because it is. The parties vary dramatically on many issues but on the treatment of our financial elites they are both little more than courtiers at the court of the king, the top one percent.

The things that motivate the protestors may from time to time provide the Democrats with useful dialogue for a quick commercial but they haven’t been important to the party apparatus for decades. Once the commercial is cut, the message will be forgotten unless the poll numbers move briskly in which case the line will have a brief second life.

The Democrats are going to do what the Democrats always do, pretend to care. They’ll throw some crumbs to the demonstrators, endorsements, praise, nice op-eds and eventually “proposed” legislation. The legislation will be gradually forgotten, or re-written until there is nothing left or passed in one house to languish in the other. The fix is always in.

When the Democrats care about something like “free” trade deals, it goes right to the top right away. The damn things can annihilate the economic fortunes of millions of Americans but the Democrats vote for them quickly, easily and in almost total lockstep because that is what the “real” Americans, the top one percent want.

A political party built around the protecting the welfare of the bottom 99% of the population is not just a radical idea, for the professional campaigners is simply doesn’t make any sense, by their reasoning, the bottom 99% doesn’t have the kind of money or influence to run elections.

That conventional wisdom is unlikely to change. Campaigns have been run for the interests of the top one percent for decades, and it is no doubt much easier to win with incredible sums of money from a handful of donors, who can be counted upon to give large sums year after year, than it is to actually work an election from point of view of actual human beings.

Is this going to be a turning point in history? I hope so. I don’t see the protestors handing their movement over to the President or anyone else. Identification with either major political party inevitably leads to an absorption of the least controversial elements. It is destructive to the political process to allow such co-option.

Only movements separate from the parties can have a long term effect on the party itself. The reason for this is that parties exist to elect candidates, not to effect change. Thus, we have the spectacle of the Democratic Party developing into a party of professional politicians purchasable virtually at will. To make a party tow the ideological line, you have to beat and humiliate politicians who hold other beliefs. It has to be done outside the party.

James Pilant

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