Michael Lind: Occupy Movements Could Make Libertarians and Tea Partiers Seem More Extreme (Which is Good)


Never mind fears of the Obama administration or Democrats co-opting the Occupy Wall Street movement, Salon's Michael Lind is excited about OWS, because those crazy kids could realign the center of American politics. If the protesters stay radical, somehow that will make people stop thinking that the New Deal Democrats are the far left. They're the non-crazy center, see:

The Occupy Wall Street movement has the potential to help the center-left, even if some of its activists despise the center-left the way that the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s dismissed progressive-liberals like the Kennedys and Johnson as sinister "corporate liberals" promoting the "warfare-welfare state."  The reemergence of a radical economic left can create a fourth point on the political spectrum, changing the relative position of all other points.  The Tea Party right, now the mainstream right, would become the far right.  Today's center, shared by Clinton and Obama with Reagan and the Bushes, would become the new center-right.  And the new center-left would be something like New Deal liberalism — to the left of Clinton and Obama, but to the right of an anti-capitalist left.  Better yet, if the public tired of Tea Party conservatism, the far right could implode and the new "far right" would be moderate economic conservatism of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Obama variety.  What until recently has been the left — old-fashioned social democratic reformism in the New Deal tradition — might once again be the center.

Buried in his dubious essay are several cogent points; Lind does group Obama with the Bushes, Clinton, and even Reagan, noting that Obama is not exactly a friend to certain left ideals (civil liberties, opposition to war, etc.) 

Lind also notes that the warrior presidents of the 20th century were nearly all Democrats: Wilson, FDR, LBJ:

The goal of progressive-liberals has been to save American capitalism by reforming it, not to replace it.  And the progressive-liberal presidents led the U.S. into the world wars and the Cold War, over the objections of the pacifist left and the isolationist right.  Today a case can be made for considerable strategic retrenchment by the U.S., but progressives in the Rooseveltian tradition want the country to maintain the capability to intervene in conflicts beyond North America, if that is necessary to prevent hostile powers from dominating the populations and resources of key regions.

For most of the 20th century, the American center-left was attacked simultaneously by the radical left and the reactionary right. This allowed progressive-liberals to position themselves as the reasonable alternative to the extremes of socialism and plutocracy.

This hoped-for political shift leaves libertarians and any of their sensible Tea Party friends not just out in the cold, but non-existent. Because they are too damn radical. 

Recall that Lind declared that libertarians "apologize for autocracy" and "side with the confederacy." (Damon Root politely, but firmly refuted that particular screed.) Extremism, to Lind, is anyone opposed to a baseline leviathan state. Sensible folks know that the hippie kids in the street can be used to make non-threatening, non-pierced or blue-haired FDR-style liberalism inherent to every serious political discussion. 

The thing is, plenty of folks whom I talked to at Occupy D.C. sounded like moderates. Some were sensibly anti-war, a few mentioned the drug war, but many of them advocated for a kind of fettered capitalism that they believe would be more fair. 

For example, Matt Welch just blogged a poll where half of the OWSers asked thought that the bailouts were "necessary." Here's another interpretation, from capitalnew york.com, of that polling data that is not oh God, the radical leftists are going to overthrow everything:

What the pre-interpreted numbers seem to show, to me, anyway, is that many of the protesters consider themselves Democrats, many will vote for Obama in 2012, and, relatively speaking, "income inequality" doesn't actually rank too high on their list of grievances.

What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States? {Open Ended}

30% Influence of corporate/moneyed/special interests 
3% Our democratic/capitalist system 
3% Stagnant middle class wages 
21% Partisanship 
15% Joblessness 
6% Income inequality 
7% Corruption 
2% Entrenched bureaucracy 
2% Bush tax cuts 
2% Obama abandoned left 
2% Military spending 
2% Federal Reserve 
5% Everything

Also, fascinating:

What would you like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement achieve? {Open Ended}

35% Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP
4% Radical redistribution of wealth
5% Overhaul of tax system: replace income tax with flat tax
7% Direct Democracy
9% Engage & mobilize Progressives
9% Promote a national conversation
11% Break the two-party duopoly
4% Dissolution of our representative democracy/capitalist system
4% Single payer health care
4% Pull out of Afghanistan immediately
8% Not sure

A lot of these folks are moderate leftists who are telegenically pissed off at some of the correct things, including the president. But some could easily end up as the New Deal Democrats of Lind's dreams. 

Reason on Occupy Wall Street and Occupy D.C..