And that, Jim, is the million dollar question. Many polls have shown that part of Obama’s sinking approval ratings aren’t his policies per se, but that he doesn’t have a clear message (though lately he has begun to correct that). I think historically Democrats (well, after the segregationist Dixiecrats in the South) have been the party that says we are all in this together. The party that wants to protect the commons so there is a level playing field for all entrepreneurs and businesses. The party that provides a safety net for all Americans (poor, middle class, and wealthy). The party that protects the environment, to the benefit of all Americans. The party that intelligently protects the country and engages in war only when necessary for security and not simply for war profiteering.
And, that has largely been lost due to corporate control of America. As Richard Wolff points out, just after World War II, for every tax dollar taken in from individuals, $1.50 was taken in from corporations. Today, for every dollar from individuals, we only get 25 from taxes on corporations. The corporations have won. And it isn’t that what they are doing is illegal, but that they have taken over, and with the Roberts’ court decision in Citizen’s United, they have made it all legal. And that is why, while the truth is that there has been a class war and it has been handily won by the rich, the main meme you hear from our corporate media is that Obama is waging a class war against the rich. The rich control the media, and that is the message they want out, and that is the message that gets out. They don’t want the average American to realize it is a complete and utter lie.
The Wall Street protesters are in some ways a counter to the tea party (though interestingly, there are a few tea partiers among them. Bizarre as it is, Sarah Palin’s recent rants on corporate cronyism may actually have woken up a few in the tea party to the fact that it isn’t just the government that is the problem). I don’t see it becoming its own party though, for the same reason of corporate power and control. They like the status quo where they de facto control both parties (I mean, Obama has had a few $35,000 a plate fund raisers lately; and we think he’s really going to listen to the little guy who sends him $5?) and they have the resources and will use them to make sure no third party ever gains traction. I remember in 2003, Al Gore gave a speech in Miami that was attended by 200 people, and it was the top story on every network news, raising speculation that he would run for president again. In Miami on the same night, there was a Green Party event where Ralph Nader spoke to over 8,000 enthusiastic people. This isn’t about what you think of Nader; it’s about the fact that not a single network news show even mentioned it. They made it very clear they had no interest in what the greater number of people were attending or supporting, and were only interested in what the Washington power brokers wanted them to cover. And in the last eight years it has only gotten worse.
I think it would be wonderful for America if there were more viable political parties, and I’m not sure how we get there. While I disagree pretty much with everything the tea party stands for, their methods are right; they didn’t try to start a new party, they tried to take over the Republican party, and may yet, though with their extremism, it might just kill the party if they succeed. We forget that in America political parties have disappeared. (Though as I pointed out above, times have changed, and they and the corporations that control them are much more powerful than they were in the 19th century). And we have actually, though 100 years ago, had viable socialist candidates run for president.
You ask about the ability of reasonable people to be educated, talk, and find common ground. The country is full of reasonable people with those qualities. And I always think of something I experienced about five years ago that made me understand fully the power of propaganda, and why money controls politics, and why the repeated 30 second ads find traction, and why they are of crucial importance, and are why it is so hard to fight the money. I was visiting an old college roommate and his family for a few days. They had four children, age 6 to 13. They are intelligent people, with some progressive and some conservative beliefs. They try to stay informed about the world and to follow politics when elections come around. And, in the end, they are woefully uniformed, almost through no fault of their own. They try to watch the nightly news, but in the half hour it is on, they are making dinner, and are interrupted at least ten times by one of their kids. So they really don’t follow any of the news stories; but they do get hit over the head by the 30 second ads that are run at least ten times during the half hour, and the repetition gets through.
With busy lives and family, they also don’t have time to read something like Newsweek, let alone anything of actual substance about what is going on in the country. So in the end their views are shaped by the 30 seconds of propaganda that are repeated over and over and over. Perhaps the saving grace is that in the end it didn’t take the majority of Americans long, once they started paying attention two weeks before the election, that Obama was the far better choice than McCain.
I would like to be in the protests on Wall Street. And isn’t it interesting that they’ve been going on two weeks with very little media coverage, until a cop pepper sprayed at someone for absolutely no reason, so egregiously that the authorities are now forced to investigate it and the media forced to cover it. That may be the only way to finally counter the control of big money—when they finally overplay their hand and it wakes people up to the point they stop believing the propaganda and take to the streets. It is very sad that in America it has come to that. Like you and George Washington I think parties are a big part of the problem, and while I obviously vote Democratic almost all of the time, I wouldn’t officially join the party, any more than I would invest my money in Exxon.