Yesterday, I was listening to the talking heads across the various TV talk shows try and divine some intelligence from the current street protests that are being held under the banner of “Occupy [Something]”. Divining intelligence from the interviews and videos of these protesters is hard enough, but it is getting even harder to take anything they are doing seriously in light of the emerging news stories that implicate the usual suspects (community organizers, labor leaders, and liberal media outlets) in efforts to try to get the protesters to organize around and promote their agendas.
That’s when I thought back to what I had read recently about the uninformed, and unformed, minds among many “emerging adults” chronicled by researchers in the new book, Lost In Transition, and my thoughts turned to some more serious concerns.
My guess is that somewhere among the protesters on one of the many street corners, or in one of the many parks, there are some individuals from various age groups and walks of life who really do have concerns about their futures, the future of the economy, and the future of this country. My guess is that some of these concerned individuals really are in the streets to protest what they feel is a system that isn’t working. These people, like those who joined the Tea Party and 9-12 groups in 2009, want fundamental changes in the way things are working, but, unlike the Tea Party and other groups, they don’t exactly know what is wrong, they don’t know what needs to be done to fix it, and they aren’t sure what to do other than protest.
Rather than focus on the professional agitators, and the “village idiots” on YouTube, I think we Republicans need to think about those lost individuals who may be in the midst of those protests, and we need to speak to them—like Reagan tried to do when he walked into the South Bronx during the 1980 campaign. Now, given the tenor of the times, I am not suggesting that any candidate or elected official actually go down and confront the protesters, but somehow, publicly, we need to talk to them.
And what would we say? On that I am going to digress for a moment. When my mind started to wonder yesterday, I went back to my library at home and to my old clipping files, because I remembered some thoughts had I read many years ago. You see, from the mid-‘70s through the early ‘80s, we lived through some pretty tough times in this country—those post-Watergate, post-Vietnam years—when a lot of smart people were concerned about whether the country and the economy had reached a tipping point. During that time, the political journalist and author, Theordore H. White, who had become an expert in chronicling Presidential politics, wrote two books, In Search of History and America in Search of Itself, which mixed his review of the 1976 and 1980 campaigns with a critique of the America of that day. Here is how he ended both books:
In Search of History:
The happy, tranquil decade that had run from 1954 to 1963 was about to give way to the Storm Decade of the sixties, which ran from 1963 to 1974. And all the contending groups under the surface of the old political culture would emerge claiming special privileges under the banner of Opportunity.
What would be really at issue was whether America would be transformed, in the name of Opportunity, simply into a Place, a gathering of discretely defined and entitled groups, interests and heritages; or whether it could continue to be a nation, where all heritages joined under the same roof-ideas of communities within government. The revolution of the Storm Decade and its aftermath would be a testing of whether that had made America a nation could stretch far enough to keep it one; and whether a new culture could nourish a political system as strong and successful as the one that was passing away.
America In Search of Itself:
It was to a new generation of politicians that America in the 1980’s would have to turn for its remaking. If they were brave enough and wise enough, they might employ their calling of power to make America a community once again.
I write and close this book in a clouded time, not knowing whether it is twilight or dawn, an era ending or an era beginning. It is twilight if new policy carries us back to the old America before its transformation, it is dawn if new policy carries us forward to release us from civil fear and the web of federal control. Somewhere, in the decades of upheaval, came a wrong turning. Another wrong turning in this decade could take politics away from traditional politicians and bring us convulsions in the streets. It would require both strong nerves and real wisdom on the part of politicians in the 1980’s to avoid convulsion. Future historians will find the Reagan experiment a fascinating study as it approaches its climax. But this drama is for the politicians of today to manage; and it will be up to them to prove, once more, that America remains, as Lincoln said, “the last, best hope ofearth.”
Those of us who lived through those years remember that we emerged from the fog during the early Reagan years, and we didn’t experience convulsion in the streets, but, instead, experienced a generation of unprecedented strength and prosperity. But, as we embraced all of the advantages that came from that strength and prosperity, I think it is fair to say that we delayed dealing with, and even ignored, the underlying problems that White put his finger on so many years ago—whether we would become a Place, and cease being a nation; whether we could rebuild an American community; and whether we could release ourselves from the web of federal control that had stifled our ability to come together. We are seeing the consequences of that inaction now.
As I went through my clippings file, I found an Essay from a Time Magazine issue from late July, 1984, after the 1984 Democratic Convention had ended. As the country was preparing to re-elect Reagan in a landslide, the editor wrote these words:
Which kind of people do we wish to be? Both kinds. An energetic and sometimes ruthless individualism has always co-existed in the U.S. with the communal and compassionate impulse. …
… What kind of people do Americans want to be? They want to be a great deal better than they are—not only better paid or better clothed, but better. Not merely passive recipients of favors from the governmental All-Daddy, or, on the other side, shrewd looters cooking the books and snickering through loopholes. The potential idealists inhabit the middle between those two caricatures. They crave material well-being, certainly. But they also want to be, saying it plainly, active participants in the larger enterprise of their nation. They want to do some good, to make changes.
And then, the editor closed with this poignant observation:
The candidates who stir this energy, will have discovered fire.
With all that Reagan did do for this country, he didn’t stir this energy after 1984, and neither did any of our other leaders over the last generation—but the energy is still there. As we’ve seen from our neighbors who formed so many Tea Party and other groups, we still yearn to be release from fear and the web of federal control, and to stop being merely a place and to be a community of free, self-reliant neighbors again. In short, we want to be active participants in the larger enterprises of our families, our communities and our nation—we want to do some good and make changes that will improve this country.
And, unlike in 1984 (thank you, Steve Jobs), we now have incredible tools at our disposal to help us manage our time, communicate with each other, and participate. But tools don’t direct a movement, people do.
So, what do we need to tell the lost souls on those streets who do care, but who don’t know what to do, or what went wrong? We need to tell them that protest is not participation—and its time to participate. It’s time to participate in the larger enterprises of their communities and to do some good. They need to know that politicians and bankers won’t change until we change. We are the energy that will reform this country, and the reform we need has a blueprint. It is the most radical blueprint ever drawn: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; and the Federalist Papers. We just need to use this blueprint to restore our edifice to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The lost souls need to know that with enough courage and determination, we can do it.
To those of you Republicans who are running for office in 2012, have the courage of your convictions to go into every community and talk to your neighbors, and to the lost souls who are know something is wrong but could easily be led astray, and stir that energy.
Remember, the candidates who stir this energy, will have discovered fire.
The Dude says
Ed, I can appreciate what you write, but have you followed the debate between Karl Denninger and Pajamas Media on this at all?
One of the main points Karl makes (and one I fully agree with) is that the so-called "prosperity" of the past 30 years is the result of ever expanding debt – both government and household. While I agree with you that government has become overly intrusive in many ways, I don't think that uncertainty about it is the main cause of market volatility in the present tense. Moreover, excessive government regulation really had nothing to do with the meltdown of 2008, despite some Republicans attempting to establish a connection between CRA and that crash.
I think the OWS movement is simply the reaction of a public who knows they've been screwed by Wall Street and Washington DC acting in concert, but don't know how to articulate it in all cases.