4 Reasons the Right-Wing Propaganda Machine Has Failed to Destroy OWS
In the two years between the 2008 election and the 2010 election, it seemed that the American right--especially the paranoid far right--really owned the moment. The invention of the Tea Party, the escalating influence of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, the Republican electoral sweeps of 2010: it all seemed like the right’s decades-long project of amassing power had reached new heights.
But now, less than a year after the 2010 elections, the right-wing is losing its ability to dominate the media's attention. Hardline conservatives struggle to find a candidate to go up against Barack Obama in 2012. Sarah Palin gets booed in public. Tea Party numbers are dwindling and now the group is ranking amongst the least popular groups in the country. Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street has surged forward both in public consciousness and in popularity. The right-wing response to Occupy Wall St. has been limp and incoherent, mainly centered around spreading urban legends about dirty hippies and avoiding any substantive engagement.
How did the right-wing lose hold of the narrative? Here are four reasons it has been unsuccessful (so far) in steering and reframing the discourse surrounding OWS and the movement's focus on the injustice of the 1%'s dominance of our economy and politics.
1. Its “woe is me” pose may have lost luster in an ongoing economic crisis.
The stock and trade of the American right is to play the victim. Right-wing propaganda in the form of Fox News, talk radio and direct mail is full of whining about how conservatives are just so oppressed because they can’t impose their agenda on others by fiat. The Tea Party’s motto was one of victimization: “I want my country back!” At first, many perceived the Tea Party as a populist uprising against unpopular initiatives like the bank bailout. As time has worn on, however, it’s become clear that the Tea Party has no real interest in holding corporations accountable, and that its leadership generally seemed interested in exploiting the bank bailout as part of a larger anti-government ideology coupled with a heartfelt devotion to the typical culture warrior nonsense.
Meanwhile, across the nation, people are losing their jobs and homes, and dying of treatable illnesses because they don’t have health insurance. With real victimhood all around us, it’s hard to find an ounce of sympathy for someone who feels victimized because they aren’t teaching creationism in schools, because they have to pay their taxes, or because they have to endure pressing “1” for English when they call AT&T.
2. The obsession with sex.
The Republicans swept many state elections and the U.S. House by convincing the voters that they intended to do something about the economic crisis and lower the unemployment rate. Instead, they devoted most of their attention to the supposed crisis of people having unauthorized orgasms. The House can’t pass a jobs bill to save their lives, but they can pass one bill after another attacking abortion rights or defunding family planning spending. The first big showdown between Obama and the House Republicans, in fact, was over condoms and the pill; House Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government in order to prevent American women from getting subsidized birth control pills from Planned Parenthood. On the state level, voters saw the newly elected Republicans do the same thing. One state after another is falling into disrepair and seeing unemployment numbers stay high, but their state legislatures are more interested in defunding contraception and restricting abortion than in paying attention to people’s economic concerns.
It’s not just the specter of women having unauthorized sex that concerns Republicans. While the House can’t find the time or energy to help relieve the nation’s economic distress, they do seem to find plenty of money and time to fight same-sex couples who want to legally marry. Americans who are wanting for jobs just aren’t seeing how keeping strangers from married is getting them any closer to getting those jobs.
3. The looniness.
Between the Tea Party and the electoral sweeps, the right seemed to decide that it was popular enough that it could let it all hang out without getting any blowback. The American right has always been loony and paranoid, but 2011 was when the looniness really came out and became unavoidable. There were Glenn Beck’s paranoid rantings. So many right wingers became loudly fixated on President Obama’s birth story that he was eventually forced to release his birth certificate. Republican presidential candidates find they must pay tribute to all sorts of irrational nonsense, from denying global warming to creationism, in order just to get their foot in the door. Average Americans have come to expect that we’ll be hearing about communist mind control chemicals in the drinking water soon. It’s hard to see the Tea Party as rational actors who can make solid economic decisions when they spend so much time emailing each other with lists of reasons they think President Obama was born in Kenya.
4. The out-of-sync ideological preoccupations.
Beyond the obviously loony right-wing nonsense is the inability to set aside unpopular preoccupations. The right assumed the electoral sweeps meant the country was ready to hear ideas the far right has been nursing for a long time in the underground. Right-wingers talked bank bailouts until they got into power and then switched to talking about permanently eliminating major taxes on the super-wealthy, ending Social Security and privatizing popular government services--all ideas that don’t sit well with the public at large. On the contrary, in economic hard times, Americans hang on harder to social welfare programs like Social Security, and they stop thinking it’s so great that rich people have more money than they know what to do with while people are starving in the streets.
Because of these ideological preoccupations and wealth-worshipping, the American right was wholly unequipped to deal with the rise of liberal protests in the form of Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 Percent. The protesters have addressed record unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and growing inequalities between the wealthy and the rest of us; hence the reference to the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of our nation’s wealth. The right couldn’t even grasp the actual complaints of the protesters and instead responded with We Are the 53 Percent, a reference to the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income tax. The problem with that is no one was talking about most federal income tax payers; the liberal protesters are defending the vast majority of Americans, a group that includes people currently paying federal income tax, and those who can’t because they’re poor or students or retired.
The whole point of Occupy Wall Street is that a middle-class person who struggles to get by has more in common with an unemployed person than with the rich; in fact, a middle-class person could easily become a poor person in this economy. That is untrue of the 1 percent. The utter inability to grasp that basic argument has exposed the American right for what it is: a group of intellectually bereft people whose reliance on empty ideological platitudes prevents them from engaging with a changing world.