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

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...