Merry Christmas, Zuccotti Park
Posted by John JMesserly
… Seriously guys, you just can’t say stuff like this:
“You spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money.”
It’s un-America. But it this goes further, claims National review: Zucootii Park is overrun with Communists (source). Although the quote above was officially identified by the FBI as Communist propaganda 1, and could have been spoken at Occupy Wall Street, it’s actually from the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. George Bailey (the good financier) says these words to Henry Potter (the evil financier).
What? One of the most beloved movie of Christmas was considered Communist propaganda? Really? What was the FBI thinking?
The fact that both George Bailey the Hero and Henry Potter the villain are both capitalist financiers goes without notice: such “nuances” have never been in the interests of the right wing to acknowledge. Let’s face it. This is a very very old story. Whatever the regime in power, throughout history conservatives have portrayed complaints against excesses of the powerful as the delusions of a mob seeking to pull down the entire system. The tactic seeks to gather around them the public who naturally self identify as the responsibly rational as opposed to all those of the irresponsible / irrational rabble. This is Nixon’s silent majority against the rabble of McGovern. It is the Loyalist majority lawfully following King George against the rabble complaining about unequal government policies.
It is not just the National Review who is portraying the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street as anti-capitalist. What gets reported is that there is a strong feeling of resentment towards arrogant Wall Street laissez-faire financial practices. What goes unreported is that few have any problem with the Steve Jobs kind of capitalism. The Occupy Wall Street protesters cry out against the financial casino of naked default swap gambling, but is it true that the protesters are anti-any-kind-of-finance? No. They are for all the George Baileys engaged in responsible finance activity that makes loans to small businesses and low income families buying homes. Microloans are cool, Citigroup screwing the public isn’t.
The fact is that the public has always had a much more balanced view of finance, and this should come as no surprise. In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, every viewer makes a big distinction between the kind of finance that George Bailey and Henry Potter are involved in. When there is a run on George’s Savings and Loan, it is clear that all of the townspeople are investors, and all of them are getting interest. (Potter “magnanimously” offers to buy the townspeople’s shares in the Bailey S&L for 50 cents on the dollar.) George explains the complexity of the finances to the people, but what wins the argument is that George appeals to everyone’s sense of sticking together, trusting one another, and making sacrifices during hard times. George chooses to behave honorably, while Potter’s behavior is regarded as dishonorable. The message is moral, not political. It is not left vs. right horizontal, but up versus down vertical.
George and his “miserable Savings and Loan” is part of the 99%.
As benevolent as this film was, it was regarded by culture warriors of the period as part of a communist conspiracy. Secret FBI memos described Capra’s movie as communist, advocating “an irresponsible economy in the name of moral responsibility.” (source) Capra was indeed suggesting it was good to have an economy that was built on positive human traits rather than being predicated on pure self interest.
Ironically, the system of Wall Street that the Right is defending is in fact Socialism. It is hard for conservatives to accept that the business models of AIG, Goldman and Lehman all relied on implicit governmental support for their positions. Ultimately with a wink and a nod everyone knew that it was a game they could not lose- whatever happened the government could not let them fail. Now, conventional wisdom is that investors should be allowed to take as many risks as they like, so long as they not threaten to take down the entire global economy if one or a group of Wall Street firms go bankrupt. But with Dodd-Frank we only marginally less vulnerable from that sort of scenario, as in 2008 when Wall Street had the “Too big to fail” gun to America’s head. Because we will not allow our economy to be bombed back to the stone age, the de facto situation continues to be that the US government is still providing an implicit backstop to Wall Street financial institutions.
The reality is that there are socialists here- but the National Review has it backwards. The socialists populate Wall Street firms and not Zuccotti park. This inconvenient fact violates the narratives promoted by the Right- the narratives that seek to demonize traitorous liberal industrialists like Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Steve Case, Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt. Unlike the Right’s darling Wall Street sponsors, these individuals are the real capitalists: The real job creators building the real economy.