Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Fellow Travelers, Useful Idiots and the Wedge

“Dear Mr. Hammet:
And here I thought that you were a detective and a brilliant one, because The Maltese Falcon is one of my favorite mystery stories. Don’t you know who I am? This is not to say that everyone should, but I think you should. And if you do, you ought to know better than to send me an invitation like this. Well, you’re half right, at that. I do welcome anyone fighting against "Coughlin’s “Social Justice.” But when you give a party to fight both “Social Justice” and “The Daily Worker”, count me in, and I’ll give you $7.00 per ticket, let alone $3.50. Not until then, Comrade, not until then.”

--Ayn Rand, Letter to Dashiell Hammet, August 1, 1940; Letters of Ayn Rand, Google E-book edition. 



During the last two weeks I have experienced two or three moments of surprise and dismay in conversation or in reading Facebook posts and comments, because people I thought should know better have excused and supported the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Wherever (OWS) actions and agenda.

I have heard self-identified conservatives (Chris Christie comes to mind) compare OWS to the Tea Parties, saying that we have the same goals (?) but wish to use different means. I have read comments by purported libertarians who defend OWS, stating that if the protesters want to end the Fed and destroy “Jewish control of the money”, they are all for it.  I have had conversations with Jews who excuse the anti-Semitism displayed at OWS gatherings across the nation, saying that because Jews are taking part in the demonstrations, it is meaningless; and anyway “there is anti-Semitism on the right, too.” As if that makes it unnecessary to confront it.

Even the President of the United States and the leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress are saying that the OWS agenda reflects the concern and anger brewing among all Americans due to the stagnant economy.  And almost everybody in the MSM seems to be telling everybody else there that this “movement” is broad-based and grass roots, our very own Tahrir Square. I don’t what they’ve been smoking but there is no comparison between people who have been living under an Islamic dictatorship for more than 30 years and going hungry, with entitled individuals decrying the evils of corporations and demanding “free” stuff while texting on their i-Phones and ducking into Starbucks for a Venti Carmel Macchiato.

None of this is true, as even the casual observer can surmise just by identifying the organizers, watching the You Tube, and reading the various signs, manifestos and lists of demands coming from the OWS crowd. It has been known since last Spring, when Stephen Lerner (who is too radical even for the very left-leaning SEIU) was caught on digital stating the plan and purpose for OWS, that this movement is not grassroots. And since the protests started last month, such paragons of collectivism and unreason as the Communist Party USA, the American Nazi Party, the teachers unions and SEIU have provided material and/or moral support for the movement. Oh, and so has the Democratic Party. Now there are hard numbers to back up what the casual observer already knew. On Tuesday, October 18, Pollster Douglas Schoen wrote this in the Wall Street Journal:  

. . .the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people . . .

“The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.

“Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.


Schoen goes on to give numbers. According to his analysis of the data compiled by Ms. Confino, 98% of her sample “support civil disobedience to achieve their goals.” (Since their actions are civil disobedience, and they are using force by “occupying” property, one has to wonder what--if anything--is going on in the minds of the other 2%). Further, 52% of them have protested before, and 31% would use violence to achieve their goals. 65% agree that “the government” is obliged to provide entitlements (free health care, college educations, retirement security) regardless of the bill, and to pay for it all, 77% support taxing the rich, but 58% do not support taxing everybody. Schoen continues:


What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas. . . .

Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal.


What is curious is that if even the casual observer can qualitatively know what the hard data now tells us, then why would Democratic Party leaders, and worse, conservatives and libertarians lend support to this movement, which after all is not large, and is completely out of step with the general public. After all, according to Schoen’s analysis, one quarter of the OWS crowd do not even plan to vote. However, the older and more conservative members of the general public do vote, and the independent registered voters tend to be moving away from supporting the Democrats in any case.

What would cause politically astute people to lend support of any kind to such a movement? And why in the world would libertarians, conservatives, and moderates  excuse, defend and even support the OWS crowd? Liberty-minded people support individual rights, economic freedom and personal responsibility, after all; whereas it is clear from Schoen’s analysis that the OWS crowd does not.

Certainly, there are those among the OWS supporters whose ideology is of the same hard-left, activist variety as that of the protesters themselves. They can be expected to proudly stand by them. And then there are those who agree with certain aspects of the OWS agenda, although they are not willing to go as far as joining in the movement itself. Nor do they wish to publically align themselves with socialism, fascism or communism and the overt supporters of these ideologies in the CPUSA, the American Nazi Party, or other variants. These are Fellow Travelers who end up serving a cause even if they do not wish to be seen as doing so, or with which they do not wholly agree. I suspect that most of the MSM are Fellow Travelers with one or another of the various collectivist ideologies.

But what about those who defend or excuse OWS even while claiming values and principles in opposition to those held by the protesters, the organizers and their overt supporters? The ones who claim to be conservatives or libertarians, or even moderates and traditionally “liberal” Democrats?

Some of them, especially the politicians among them, are likely not being totally honest about their most deeply held values and are taking on certain labels in order to woo voters. This dishonesty leads to the kind of corruption among the powerful we have come to almost expect. But I think the majority of these OWS excusers and defenders are confused about the labels they apply to themselves, or they have mixed premises, believing in liberty, but accepting certain anti-liberty premises as “practical” and “necessary.” Or they may be liberty-minded people who have not overtly examined the philosophy of liberty and therefore do not inform their positions on policy from liberty’s values and principles. These are the ones most likely to be duped into lending support to, or excusing movements like OWS, that are based on values and principles in contradiction to their own. In so doing, they become Useful Idiots.

Useful Idiots are people who make common cause with individuals and groups whose values are in opposition to their own out of  naiveté, either in an attempt to do good or to oppose some common enemy who is perceived to be more dangerous than the opposition with whom they cooperate. Unlike Fellow Travelers, Useful Idiots are cynically used by ideologues, and are induced to it by a covert strategy called the Wedge.

The Wedge works by introducing a concrete issue or policy into the discussion upon which each of two sides agree, even though each side holds principles contradictory to the other. Duping someone with the Wedge depends upon the individual not noticing that although he agrees with the particular policy or issue as framed by the ideologue, he does so for different reasons and/or may identify different solutions . (For a thorough review of the Wedge Strategy and its uses, see the four part series on Adam Reed’s blog, Born to Identify, beginning here).

For example, both the OWS activists and various liberty-minded groups agree that the Federal Reserve Bank and the banking system it controls is responsible for the housing bubble and the stock market crash and credit crunch of 2008. Therefore, members of both groups may wish to “End the Fed.” However, the OWS activists want to do so in order to increase direct government control over the economy, thus forcing private banks and other businesses to pay for the “free” stuff to which they believe they are entitled. On the other hand, conservative or libertarian individuals see ending the Fed as part of a larger strategy to set the economy free and re-establish Capitalism, an economic system in which all property is private and individuals are free to choose with whom they will do business and what they will do with their money. Ending the Fed is a Wedge that is conducive to the strategy of the statist organizers of OWS, who are far more interested in further collectivizing the United States than they are in ending the Fed. The Fed, after all, is a useful instrument for exerting more control over the economy, and with it, the lives of ordinary Americans.

Ending the Fed is one of several Wedges in play in the political discourse of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They are all useful in refocusing the opposition to their ultimate goal, seeking to make those of us who hold to the principles of liberty believe that we should, as one Useful Idiot puts it, “Unite against the 1% for Liberty and Freedom.” As Adam Reed points out in his blog series (referenced above):

 . . . if we agree with them on issue after issue, then there seems to be no contradiction between their ideals and ours. They might even be the good guys, and their ideas may deserve to be heard, and to be included in the national consensus on legislation and public policy.


In using terms like—“unity” and “freedom”--as a hook, the OWS organizers and their fellow travelers seek to conflate the goals and values of OWS with our own and thereby covertly get our cooperation with them. This can lead to them making converts to their cause, or at least confuse us enough to stop us from opposing their agenda, or from pointing out the characteristics that differentiate them from us.

This is why some Jews, for example, make excuses for the overt and unopposed anti-Semitism in evidence at OWS rallies across the nation. They buy the Wedge, even though it is false, and ignore the reality that anti-Semitism is a racist ideology opposed to individual liberty. This characteristic rhetoric ought to demonstrate that our principles and values are different than theirs, and that there can be no compromise, no “popular front” between us.

In order not to be taken in by the Wedge Strategy, liberty-minded individuals must be conscious our values and principles and consistently and deliberately apply them to the goals and strategies expressed by those who wish to make common cause with them. When our values and principles are not aligned with theirs, we can recognize when a Wedge is being used against us. In order not to serve, defend or excuse a cause that violates our principles, we then must not participate in the organizations and activities of those who promoting such a cause.

Further, once the Wedge is in play in the shared political discourse of a community or country, we ought to point it out because sunshine is the best disinfectant. In our own discussions of the issue or policy being used as a wedge, we need to promote our view from the standpoint of our values, and point out the difference between our reason and theirs. In so doing, the consequences of our line of reasoning will differentiate implications to our advocacy of the issue that our opposition will disagree with, making it clear that we do not have common cause or a “popular front.”

In this way, we remain true to our own values, come what may, and we keep our principles ever before us so that we can create the future that we plan to live. One of liberty and respect for each individual’s rights.


Judy Aron said...

As always - Excellent analysis. As far as I am concerned, the OWS crowd is a mixed bag of confused, angry, unemployed, over taxed, over leveraged youth, as well as lower income and middle class folks, unfortunately being steered and manipulated by the extreme Left. It seems to me that Libertarian types are merely there to try and educate.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Judy, you wrote: "It seems to me that Libertarian types are merely there to try and educate."

I agree insofar as those "libertarians" actually know, understand and reify the principles of liberty. Unfortunately, I have seen clips of some mighty confused Ron Paul supporters and others who claim to be libertarians and yet are supporting the agendas and demands of the OWS organizers in various ways, right down to the classic antisemitic cant that "the Jews control the banks" and "the Jews" are to blame for the devaluation of US currency.