That’s George Will’s magnificent summary of the Occupy movement’s incoherent complaint: the government is “grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.”
In scale, OWS’ demonstrations-cum-encampments are to Tea Party events as Pittsburg, Kan., is to Pittsburgh, Pa. So far, probably fewer people have participated in all of them combined than attended just one Tea Party rally, that of Sept. 12, 2009, on the Washington Mall. In comportment, OWS is to the Tea Party as Lady Gaga is to Lord Chesterfield: Blocking the Brooklyn Bridge was not persuasion modeled on Tea Party tactics.
Still, OWS’ defenders correctly say it represents progressivism’s spirit and intellect. Because it embraces spontaneity and deplores elitism, it eschews deliberation and leadership. Hence its agenda, beyond eliminating one of the seven deadly sins (avarice), is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.
Unfortunately for OWS, big government’s scandal du jour, the Obama administration’s Solyndra episode of crony capitalism, does not validate progressivism’s indignation, it refutes progressivism’s aspiration, which is for more minute government supervision of society. Solyndra got to the government trough with the help of a former bundler of Obama campaign contributions who was an Energy Department bureaucrat helping to dispense taxpayers’ money to politically favored companies. His wife’s law firm represented Solyndra. But, then, government of the sort progressives demand — supposed “experts,” wiser than the market, allocating wealth and opportunity by supposedly disinterested decisions — is not just susceptible to corruption, it is corruption. It is political favoritism with a clean (even green) conscience.
The incoherence of this position runs deep in progressivism. Progressives want to empower the people—by taking decisions away from them. They want to promote democracy—by turning things over to a professional core of experts who will substitute their judgment for the people’s. They decry the tendency of the wealthy to try to influence government—and then seek to give government more power, thus increasing, at once, the incentives the wealthy have to exert influence and the effects, intended and unintended, of that influence. They complain about the influence of elites—while seeking to give New Class elites more power. They want the powerful to have to feel the effects of poor decisions—but seek to avoid having to face the consequences of their own bad choices. They oppose bailouts—and want to be bailed out. They complain about the coercive power of corporations—but have no problem with coercion at the hands of unions or the government.
And, they somehow fail to see the tensions in their own position—while congratulating themselves on being smarter than everyone else.