Frank Rich on Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and Class Warfare

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Frank RichNew York Magazine columnist, discussed his latest piece on Occupy Wall Street and what he calls "the anger of a full-fledged class war."

A new poll says most Americans agree with Occupy Wall Street. The New York Times/CBS News poll found that 84 percent of those polled disapprove of Congress, 74 percent say the U.S. is on the "wrong track" and seven in ten Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich.

Frank Rich said these numbers are a big deal and show that this feeling of discontent isn't going away any time soon.

Many Republican politicians are calling Occupy Wall Street "class warfare" as a way to discredit the movement. Frank Rich said, this is exactly what it is but it's not so one-sided.

Let's call a spade a spade here. We do have a class war. It involves the right and the left. It involves...a large group of Americans who feel disenfranchised, dissed, getting the short end of the stick and the only question, it seems to me, between the right and left is who they blame for it.

Rich said there is a commonality between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party in that they are both angry with the elite, as much as they may hate to admit it. The right blames the government, the Obama administration in particular, and the left blames corporate America, Wall Street and the banking institutions, but even though they're blaming different entities, Rich said they actually hate a similar thing — TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

But Brian Lehrer raised another point — the Tea Party appears to be angrier at the poor than at the elites. They continue to call out the percentage of Americans that don't pay income taxes arguing they have no incentive to keep the government on its toes.

So we may not have Ronald Reagan anymore talking against "welfare queens" but I think the class war of the Tea Party is the old conservative feeling that the undeserving poor are taking their hard-earned money enabled by the liberal elite intellectuals.

Rich said this is a "bedrock" of it but added another layer:

The other piece of it is that they blame the so-called redistributionist government, run by people like Obama, as facilitating this hand-out to the poor so it goes back not only to Reagan but it goes back really to George Wallace and the point he had at people in Washington, you know, taking everything away from you.

People from all sides are angry and it's getting harder to ignore it and according to Rich, the numbers are speaking for themselves. Another statistic: the New York Times/CBS News poll found that two thirds of the public say the wealth in America should be distributed more evenly.

First of all it shows that the overall message of Occupy Wall Street...has gotten out there. It's something that people, including me and others, have been talking about for years...and there's really an attempt on the right, and not just the far right, to try to tamp this down and pretend it isn't existing and tell the American public they're wrong.

Rich said there's a safe word that politicians of all views have been using when they want to express sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but not too much sympathy. The word is "frustration."

I think that what it means is they don't want to frighten the horses...these much cherished, but perhaps ambiguous and opaque so-called independent voters. They don't want to look like they're getting part of what might turn out to be a radical movement ad yet, they are reading those polls. They are reading them everyday and they realize they have to come up with some sort of response... It shows the quandary of the political system and how frozen and dysfunctional it is that it just wants to try to pat them on the back and say, gee we understand you're frustrated but don't get angry and don't get angry at us and don't do anything else, stay in that park and then go home. I don't think it's going to end that way.

The poll found that not only is there disapproval of the private sector, but the government is also less popular with the public than it's ever been. Rich said this statistic is a big one.

The approval rating of Congress is so low, that's not just Republicans who hate big government and garden variety conservatives, that's a lot of Democrats and a lot of liberals and I think that, depending on your point of view, either government mucked things up by intruding too much or, the liberal point of view, government mucked things up by not regulating commerce in this country and particularly finance, and they've given up hope that they're going to do anything. So there's a feeling...that the system has failed ad will continue to fail...


Frank Rich


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Comments [36]

david ores from NYC

It is not a Financial "Crisis". It is a Financial "Crime"! Stop insulting us!

Nov. 02 2011 11:31 AM
AndrewSCH from The Heartland

It's pointless to debate the legitimacy of the OWS movement on a radio network site that is clearly hostile to the real issues, and will actually fire some of their own people for participating during their personal hours. WNYC is a shameful outfit for their recent actions against Caitlin Curran.

How dare you.

Oct. 29 2011 02:06 PM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

@ jgarbuz - I agree with your analysis about global flows of capital vis-a-vis labor and the fact that the free flow of labor can address some of the inequality, but there also is a problem of governance (or lack thereof) whereby capital and their proxies (supplicant governments) either don't permit immigrant labor, unionizing or the construction of a legitimate labor market.

Combine that with the disconnect between the self-sustaining financial markets (which we need to some extent for liquidity) and the productive/commodity markets and there is sometimes more attention and incentives paid to gambling on the stock market than company performance.

Oct. 26 2011 03:54 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, I think that the Occupy Wall Street people are, for the most part, doing what many of us wish we could do. They don’t like what is going on with the economy and they protest against it. Not having money, contrary to what many other people say in a fit of politeness or whatever one calls it, is a horrible thing. Not having money because a person has been scammed and (as in my case) has lost her home is something I would only wish on whoever is my worst enemy. The people should have been bailed out, then the banks. The banks will always find ways to make new money. The borrowers and former homeowners are struggling after several years and this is very unfair. I often feel that no one cares for the people who make it possible for the banks to make their huge profits. There is nothing wrong with people being rich. It’s just that when there are so many without, that is very sad. It’s a place with no solutions. In our country, this should not be so. Eugenia Renskoff

Oct. 26 2011 02:46 PM
kay from brooklyn

Oh shucks! First of all, a disclaimer: I adulate Frank Rich. However, I shall try to express myself mor clearly, although incoherently to some: The banking system mess that "came home to roost" was instituted by WJC, namely repeal of Glass/Steagall Act. Rubin & cohort Sandy ruled the henhouse. Then came Shrub & other cohorts, to rob nation some more (by the way Rummy, where are some of the human Heritage treasures plundered from Mesopotamia?). OWS, in my view has nothing against the "rich". The mvt is addressing, I think, THEFT! Tell me about stock options, repricing of underwater stock options, phantom stock options, etc.. etc.. Secundo, OWS is expressing extreme displeasure (not Anger). Tertio, to draw a parallel between OWS & the Tea Party is ludicrous, if not disingenous, Mr. Rich. The Republican Members of Congress (& some Dems) who stoke, guage the "Tea Party" are stupid, ignorant, bigots, racists... I dare say, even if Pres. avoids confrontation. "Them" people cannot STAND that Bam-Bam is Pres. Well, get w/it. He is, and shall be re-elected. tx. khadija

Oct. 26 2011 02:19 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The primary reason for the inequality of incomes between the owner of capital and labor, is the elasticity of the movement of capital, versus the inelasticity of the movement of the labor.

With resumed globalization of the flow of trade, particularly after the fall of communism and socialism in the USSR, China and India which had interrupted that flow after WWI, the monied classes had new places with cheap labor and large new markets to invest and reap large rewards. By contrast, those who only have their labor to sell, cannot easily go and sell their labor abroad. They are mostly limited to remaining here where the price of their labor is relatively depressed. The rich get richer because they can safely now invest anywhere in the world. Emigration may be one solution for many Americans, to do what their ancestors did, and go where the economies are rising.

Oct. 26 2011 10:59 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

One other major reason for economic inequalities that I had forgotten in the earlier post comes from a recently released book by Dean of the Rotman School of Management at Toronto University, Roger Martin, who says that too much of the U.S. economy is based on risk in futures futures trading and other financial instruments which often result in outsized executive compensation tied to the stock market and not performance or "real good." Here are some of Martin's action points:

• Restructuring executive compensation to focus entirely on the real market, not the expectations market
• Rethinking the meaning of board governance and role of board members
• Reining in the power of hedge funds and monopoly pension funds

"Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL"

Oct. 26 2011 10:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The rise of a "middle class" after WWII was an ANOMALY, a freak of nature. Whenever any nation wins a war, and its adversaries are laid low, it reaps a period of unusual bounty. In ancient days it meant booty, slaves, taxing the conquered peoples, etc. After WWII, we and our factories were intact and producing half of the world's total production.

And half the world shackled itself with Communism and socialism, so that really helped us as well. But all of that finally ended over 20 years ago, but in a hopeless effort to maintain what had been amassed, we began to borrow like drunken sailors, but the end has come. The piper came with the repo man.

Oct. 26 2011 10:49 AM
Robert from NYC

Class warfare?
Is that not what Capitalism is all about?
It is in fact about one group taking the resources of a nation or of a society and claiming it for themselves.
Then the Judicial system is also set up to carve that in stone, so that it is all made nice and legal.
The 'Class Warfare'ers on the Right, the Tea Party and the rich in this country use the high unemployment figures to attack Obama. Yet, Capitalism is inherently incapable of providing employment for all, even in its Manic phases. During its Depressive phases the system really shows its true colors, when people are simply disposed of, and the only criteria becomes the maintenance of profits for the owners of Capital.
Class Warfare is built right into the system. It is simply less noticeable during the manic 'good times', which inevitably come to a crash.
That is part and parcel of Capitalism.

Oct. 26 2011 10:48 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

These economic inequalities are something that that, as Rich says, has produced large amounts of scholarship on the subject. There are numerous reasons for this, but here are some:

> the predominance of Neoliberal globalization;
> "footloose capital" and offshoring of labor (capital moves anywhere in the world to find cheapest labor, taxation, etc.)
> the rise of the financial sector;
> lobbyist/narrow interest money in politics buying and/or capturing public officials and bureaucratic agencies and literally writing laws that benefit only their narrow interests.

These are just some of the reasons that economic inequality has increased since the late 1970s, but one thing that we must acknowledge is that nothing is inevitable and that PEOPLE make decisions that lead to these outcomes. Even though I am left-wing, liberal, progressive, whatever you want, I realize that it's the disposition of our current leaders in the political, economic and business sectors - regardless of party affiliation - and the decisions they have made over that time that has wrought this in the U.S.

@ jgarbuz - You're right that the over-reliance on credit also hurt since most peoples' income and wealth stagnated over that time due to many factors (above) and credit was seen as a way to improve one's standard of living (the American Dream, right?)

Oct. 26 2011 10:36 AM
John A.

Don't sweat Clinton too much. He's got his share of post presidential problems. Being given various international appearances doesn't necessarily rate him as a top party representative.

Oct. 26 2011 10:36 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The "middle class" was propped up by increasing debt for the last 30 years. When the ability to borrow suddenly stops, the middle class sinks back down from whence it arose.

Nothing is going to stop the decline of our standard of living until a much lower equilibrium point is finally and painfully reached.

Oct. 26 2011 10:30 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The same goes for "income redistribution": the right-wingers who object to it had no problem when it was going in the other direction & more & more money was going to the people who already had more.

Similarly, politicians who talk about "2 Americas" (or 2 New Yorks, or whatever place) are accusing of being "divisive," when they're just pointing out the divisions that already exist. I'm tired of hearing it & even more tired of not hearing it called out. So I'm glad to hear Frank Rich at least talking about it.

Oct. 26 2011 10:29 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

How well put, Susan.

Oct. 26 2011 10:28 AM
Susan from nyc

don from NJ :
Exactly what did the banks do to "earn" their bailouts? Why did the scum who tanked the world economy earn multimillion dollar bonuses instead of going to prison? Please define "capitalism" as you employ it.

Oct. 26 2011 10:28 AM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

You note that all the data points to the strong divergence in incomes beginning in the 1970's.

I've actually been talking about the very direct cause of it... since the 1970's. It's that the physical economy began to grow slower for natural causes, as the financial economy kept growing by $%'s. So the incomes people dependent on the physical expansion of the economy grew linearly (by $units) and those earning from finance kept growing exponentially (by $%'s),

Understanding how very simple a principle that is makes the problem both extremely threatening to our future, and solveable in the present. ....... (but it's got little or nothing to do with "class")

Oct. 26 2011 10:26 AM
Fuva18 from Harlemworld

If the occupiers can't encamp through the cooold winter, they can be housed elsewhere and continue the daily protests and actions.
The OWS information component really needs development and expansion.

Oct. 26 2011 10:26 AM
Robert from NYC

And that's another think, this Clinton Kumbaya feeling is sickening. He, Bill Clinton allowed, no signed the bill destroying the Glass Steegal [sp?] bill along with that sleazebag Phil Graham and Robert Ruben of Goldman Sachs and he's still seen as some kind of great president? I don't think so. He sold out. His daughter is an investment banker, isn't she? The Clintons are doin' good, to put it in NYC toims.

Oct. 26 2011 10:24 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Funny, if the OWS demonstrations weren't taking place right now across the country--we wouldn't be having these discussions right now...anyway, I still feel the media is being dismissive.

Oct. 26 2011 10:23 AM
Damon from Manhattan

Occupy's grievances seems to be more about capitalism than the political system. The polls cited by Rich and elsewhere asked people about the "distribution" of wealth - implying that there is a "distributor". However, the market is the ultimate distributor of wealth and, thankfully, no administration or congress ever has more than a negligible impact on long term structural economic trends.

Oct. 26 2011 10:23 AM
Susan from nyc

Why should anyone be surprised that both government and business are despised by the populace. Both are utterly corrupt, one the buyer (business) and one the seller (government) while everyone else is ground beneath the heels of this plutocracy.

Oct. 26 2011 10:23 AM
don from NJ

Stop using wealth is unfairly disrtibuted. Wealth is earned in capitalism.

Oct. 26 2011 10:22 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I've been asking for years why enacting policies that benefit the rich over the poor isn't "class warfare"--but pointing out that those policies benefit the rich over the poor *is*.

Oct. 26 2011 10:22 AM
M. L. from New York, NY

Instead of framing the discussion as people wanting equal income distribution (which people on the right accuse is talk of socialism), we should talk about whether or not some people (e.g., CEOs) are choosing to overcompensate themselves no matter how much actual work they do.

Oct. 26 2011 10:22 AM
John A.

Not much problem with Frank's point.
Just think we need, to lead, someone a bit less polarizing, which is what we have, but anyway...

Oct. 26 2011 10:22 AM
anna from new york

A decade ago or so, I personally sent an mail to Frank Rich begging him to notice the abuses of American worklace. Guess what, he continued to bubble about everything, but...
How about an apology?

Oct. 26 2011 10:21 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

Of course people are unhappy with the corporations AND the government - they're the same people!! They are the 1%!

Oct. 26 2011 10:20 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

The rip-off of the earning power of the average wage earner has been going on since the Johnson Administration. I've said it here, there, everywhere for years... We are not going to set it straight in a few years. We need to put ourselves on a path to repair it within two generations. AND THEN ...hold the principles dear enough to keep them in place.

Oct. 26 2011 10:20 AM
Robert% from NYC

And that's not class warfare?! I noticed these changes by the end of the 80s and started bitching about the crappy 3% so called COL raises. Or course I was a "trouble maker" and I didn't care, but in the end I was right, our wages were diminishing as the top salaried were increasing. I worked in HR and saw it in the annual COL raises were handed out.

Oct. 26 2011 10:20 AM
anna from new york

Can't wait to hear Rich's comments on "class war."
The guy who didn't use such words as unions, explotation etc. in all his numerous (too numerous) pompous columns, the guy who spent many months promoting an admirer of Reagan and reaganomics (Obama) is now bubbling about "class war."
He does it on the same day when his former colleage (Krugman) dedicates countless words to the promotion of the "historical wisdom fo bearded professors" and silences any voice of reason in the "historical way" by labelling them "enemies of the people." (Hi, Lenin and Stalin)
The NYT looks more and more like brothel.

Oct. 26 2011 10:16 AM
MEF from NYC

I first heard the term class warfare in many years ago as used by the left against the right, particularly in the Reagan era but also earlier. As is often the case, the right has "occupied" the left's narrative and turned it on its head.

Oct. 26 2011 10:16 AM
carolita from nyc

it's the rich getting the "handouts," so they're setting an example for everyone, if you want to go down the "handout" road...

Oct. 26 2011 10:15 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Actually both sides also blame the government/ politicians, but for different things.

Oct. 26 2011 10:14 AM
Robert from NYC

That's right, it IS Class Warfare! It's war on the poor!!! Hello, just twist it the correct way.

Oct. 26 2011 10:11 AM
Robert from NYC

Many Democrats as well support the rich.

Oct. 26 2011 10:10 AM
carl, queens, ny

this ''o.wall st. m.'' i liked to the person who smells shoot, but he don't know were its coming from.. he looks under his shoes, he checks the back of his trousers, not there ether?. but he knows its around some place..when a country is doing as bad as we are, every one should be taking a haircut..the fact that the richest among us are doing better then ever stinks of something..

Oct. 26 2011 08:27 AM

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