Protestors closer to popular views than politicians

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The Owls (Occupy Wall Street) won’t fly away.

While a judge in Nashville refuses to issue arrest warrants, police officers in Portland, Oregon as well as in Denver have arrested protesters. More than half of those polled by Time Magazine support the protests. Perhaps the Owls are reflecting a much broader frustration than politicians are willing to admit.

Are politicians that removed from their constituents? Is it because the majority of them belong to the 1 percent? Or is it that the political process is removed from economic realities, except when it gets to the lobbying largesse they enjoy. Thomas Friedman may be right to claim that “Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery.”

It’s true that Democrats are comfortable staying on the government dole for decades: Robert Bird (D-WV), 57 years, Carl Hayden (D-AZ), 57 years, John Dingell (D-MI), 55 years (still in office), Jamie Whitten (D-MS), 54 years, Carl Vinson (D-GA), 51 years; the only Republican on this list is Strom Thurmond (R-SC), 47 years.

But is it true that decrying Big Government means necessarily that Republicans are quick to leave politics? Our state sent Edward Taylor (D) 1909-1941 for 32 years to the US Congress, Byron Rogers (D) 1951-1971 for 20, and Joel Hefley (R) 1987-2007 for 20as well; so, are Republicans trying to become Democrats?

According to opensecrets.org, Rep. Doud Lamborn (R) received $107,462 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry; he happens to be the chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. Paul Carestia, the group’s spokesman, cites $97 billion in tax dollars that will be given to fossil fuel and nuclear companies as subsidies from 2011-2015. That number was taken from Taxpayers for Common Sense’s 2010 “Green Scissors“ report.

Perhaps Lamborn, and others like him, should volunteer to follow the blogosphere advice that members of Congress follow professional athletes who are contractually bound to wear the logo of their sponsors on their uniforms. At least we’d know who sponsors whom and whose legislative initiatives are represented.

Unlike Lamborn, our own governor, John Hickenlooper (D), cannot be accused as being a paid representative of the oil and gas industry. Having had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago, I can report that his latest idea, in the spirit of public-private collaboration, is an expedited process for licensing gas drilling in Colorado under the caveat that if rules are violated, fines will be high.

Pushing for energy independence, the governor is also offering all counties and municipalities that are interested in conserving energy to pool resources and order gas trucks (cheaper when pre-ordered than converted) so as to save up to 30 percent of their own energy costs. Any other political entity in the state that wants to collaborate and find easy ways to save money should simply contact the governor’s office.

The frustrations expressed by the Owls are probably more akin to those expressed by the so-called “Bourgeois Revolutionaries” of India who are fed up with government corruption and a dysfunctional political process rather than to the Arab Spring. The Owls have civil rights, unlike their Arab counterparts, but, like their Indian counterparts, their own economic benefits have diminished over time, while those of the corporate elite have managed to increase.

McDonald’s reported its 2011 third quarter’s net income rose by 9 percent. Verizon Communication said its profits doubled in the last quarter. G.E.’s profits are in line with analysts’ expectations, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch and the rest of News Corporation’s board were reelected at the annual shareholders meeting as if no hacking scandal ever took place. In the meantime, unemployment won’t budge, foreclosures continue and the Owls are feeling the pain.

Both economic and political realities depend to a great extent on the psychological disposition of the citizens. So, perhaps leaders in both communities can calm us all and put in place policies that clarify expectations. After all, isn’t the middle-class the engine that propels the spending machine to ever greater heights? When frightened, people don’t spend.

Even when the Owls misdirect their complaints to Wall Street rather than to Washington, they still are expressing a prevalent public attitude. There is something American about this protest: seeking fairness so that when the rich get richer, it’s because they earned it, not because they rigged the system to ensure their winnings. No one has protested the wealth of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Michael Jackson. Their wealth was deservedly earned, no matter your personal opinions of them.

No one believes that we should abolish capitalism as such, only that it should reflect its own principles of equal opportunity and freedom of choice; that it should be based on Adam Smith’s insistence that a social fabric underlies marketplace exchanges. We are all in it together!

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and believes in fairness and social cohesion. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com