Hooray for "fear of extremism and mob violence"!


Remember when angry public demonstrations amounted to "the politics of the jackboot," a dire stormcloud of brownshirtery in which "an angry minority" of white people was "engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence"? Well, now that the protesters in question are more anti-capitalist than anti-government spending, such threats are a good thing. At least according to the partisan mind of Jonathan Chait:

The larger role of the protests, should they continue, ought to be to reestablish the terms of the political debate. Historically, liberalism best succeeds when compared against a radical alternative. In the thirties and sixties, fear of extremism and mob violence made business elites eager to accept liberal compromise designed to preserve the system. Since 2009, the question of how to respond to the economy has been framed as a debate between meliorative liberalism and vicious reaction. In this climate, Wall Street has been howling about Obama's mild verbal scolding of the industry, his plans to impose some measure of regulation upon it, and ever-so-slightly raise the tax levels of the very rich.

The protests can usefully re-center the debate. When Wall Street CEOs are expressing even tepid fear for their personal safety, terms like "class warfare" might start to be reserved for more stringent measures than the return of Clinton-era tax rates.

That link in the Chait excerpt, by the way, goes to an Andrew Ross Sorkin piece in The New York Times entitled "On Wall Street, a Protest Matures." What are some examples of this new maturity?

"We're disenfranchised," said Chris Cobb, a 41-year-old writer and designer from Brooklyn who was conducting mock interviews with a cardboard television camera and microphone emblazoned with the Fox News logo. "Wall Street is a metaphor for the financial industry," Mr. Cobb said.

Sorkin also reports that "several protesters were gathered around a laptop watching an online video that had just gone viral of Rosanne Barr," and "seemed to be quite amused." This was the occasion for mirth:

I guess opposition to the death penalty, like anxiety over political rhetoric inciting violence, is last week's news.

More on media double standards for protest violence by A. Barton Hinkle here and here.