Dominic Tierney to Occupy Movement: More American Flags, Please! (Update: Judge Clears the Way to Clear Out Zucotti Park)
[Guest post by Aaron Worthing. Follow me by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Update: The more I think about it, the more I realize Tierney’s title (“Occupy Wall Street’s Image Problem”) shows how little he understands the problem. With fawning coverage in the MSM, they don’t have an “image” problem. They have a “behavior” problem so severe that the MSM can’t hide it from the rest of us.
Update (II): Via breaking news email, we learn that New York Supreme Court Judge Stallman has decided not to issue a restraining order on the police as they move to push the protesters out of Zucotti park. (Please note that in New York State, the “Supreme Court” is their lowest court, and their highest court is called the Court of Appeals.) Pull up a bowl of popcorn as we get to see more “image problems” (meaning, bad behavior) on TV tonight.
Dominic Tierney over at the Atlantic writes about the Occupy movement’s image problem. Thus he explains that:
To succeed, OWS needs to Americanize the movement. Politics in America is like a game of capture the flag. The United States is a highly ideological nation with a clear sense of its history as a narrative arc. And the right and left get to battle over who will write the next chapter in the American story.
Here, the model for OWS to copy is the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King understood how the game is played. Despite the best efforts of racists to paint King and his supporters as un-American, radical, and pro-communist, the civil rights movement successfully presented itself as the next installment in the great American tale. King deliberately reached back to the founding of the nation and asked that the country’s ideals be extended to all Americans: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Today, even conservatives like Glenn Beck embrace King and the civil rights movement.
Meanwhile, the cautionary tale is the anti-Vietnam War movement. By the late 1960s, the Vietnam War was highly unpopular. But incredibly, the anti-war movement was even less popular than the war. The protesters were widely seen as un-American: rioters, desecrators of the flag, and advocates of amnesty, acid, and abortion. The protesters got a “reputation for being elitist, radical, and unpatriotic.”
And to be fair to him, there is some truth to that. He is not the first person to notice that Americans have a long tradition of “conservative revolution,” where people claim that they were not changing things so much as vindicating what America has been about all along. The most noticeable example of this were the Republicans of the 1850’s and 60’s. Where William Lloyd Garrison famously burned a copy of the Constitution, the Republicans argued that they were fulfilling what America was supposed to be about: the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Even the very name of their party was a reference to Jefferson; in Jefferson’s day it was called the Republican party, and it was only over time that it became the Democratic-Republican party and finally the Democratic party. So it was a way of saying that the Democrats had gone astray from Jeffersonian principles and they were about restoring them.
Which was kind of crap when you think about it. The (Lincoln) Republican party was also the party of a stronger federal government (although that element of their doctrine has been overblown by some) and industrialization while Jefferson wanted America to remain decentralized and agrarian. At most they only arguably were perfecting one Jeffersonian principle, not all of them. But they still cast themselves that way and thought of themselves that way, setting a template for change in American politics that successful movements have followed.
So he is right, to some degree, but Dominic, you know what might really help the image of the Occupy movement?
If they were, you know… a little less rapey.
And they might try pooping on police cars a little less.
I know, I know… baby steps, but here’s the thing… if you wrap yourself in the flag as you do those things, that tends to offend patriots more than if you kept the flag out of it altogether.
More seriously, the deeper problem with his analysis is that these movements didn’t just wrap themselves in the flag to fool the yokels. They were brought forward by people who genuinely believed that they were carrying forward what America was all about. I might say that it was crap for the Republicans of the 1860’s to think of themselves as perfecting Jefferson, but they genuinely seemed to believe it. The same goes for Martin Luther King, Jr.
As Mr. Teirney writes, damningly:
Compare photos of OWS rallies and Tea Party events. From a distance, you can’t always tell that the leftwing protests are in the United States. By contrast, the Tea Party is awash with the stars and stripes.
Overt patriotism can make people on the left feel a little nervous. But when the nation’s symbols have such meaning to so many people, why cede the flag to conservatives?
What Mr. Teirney fails to recognize is that the Tea Party doesn’t just wave the flag but takes it guidance from the principles that this country was founded on—that the American Flag uniquely represents. The occupy movement is not grounded in such principles and are often antithetical to them. And that is why if you suddenly see flags at their rallies it will be an empty gesture at best.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]