I love New York. A weekend ago, on October 1, I walked through Washington Square Park and encountered a bunch of people with dachshunds. This weekend the park was full of Occupy Wall Street protesters who had moved uptown for the day, probably to let their bedding air out. Only in New York will you find events focusing on low-slung sausage dogs and high-flung profit hogs taking place in the identical place a week apart.
The dachshund event, however, did not draw attention from the New York Police Department, Fox News, or any of the Republican presidential candidates. Its sponsor, the Dachshund Friendship Club, exists “to introduce dogs and their guardians to each other and to encourage a friendly interaction between us all.” It certainly looked like that’s what they were doing. Owners – sorry, I mean guardians – were standing around chatting and the dogs were tangling their leashes pursuing all sorts of friendly interaction.
Even Herman Cain couldn’t find much fault with that. Where he’s finding his targets these days is among the Occupy Wall Streeters who came to the park a week later. He says they’re “jealous,” “playing the victim card,” and are “anti-capitalism.” Earlier, he said of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed and the 46 million who live below the poverty line, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
Down in Washington, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called the protesters in New York and other cities “growing mobs” with the aim of pitting Americans against Americans. Fox News’s stable of GOP talking point parrots reliably trots out accusations of class warfare against anybody who suggests that raising taxes on the wealthy might be part of a reasonable deficit reduction scheme. People who complain about income inequality are losers and “takers versus makers.” Bill O’Reilly wants to know how poor people can afford appliances, as if they shouldn’t have them if they’re really poor. Or heat and indoor plumbing either, I suppose.
The Republicans are nothing if not consistent. Today they march in line with the ethos of Herbert Hoover and his campaign in 1932. Hoover, a self-made millionaire, was the candidate of rugged individualism. He made his money in mining ventures around the world rather than selling pizza to a nation of couch potatoes as Cain did, but the comparison is apt enough. Cain and his rivals for the GOP nomination, in common with Hoover, are blind to the national peril of income inequality.
The fact that it has finally reached the point that people are taking to the streets in protest is evidence not of class warfare, but of the results of the successful war waged by the right against the poor and middle class. In 1932 the government’s indifference spurred Midwestern farmers and World War I veterans into similar protests. Farmers massed to prevent foreclosure auctions of their neighbors’ farms. The veterans convoyed to Washington and camped to appeal for the immediate payment of a bonus for their service. Hoover sent the army to burn the veterans out. When he campaigned in the Midwest, he saw the political fallout of his policies in silent, coldly staring crowds and signs that read, “In Hoover we trusted, now we are busted.” He reacted by calling Democrats “the party of the mob.” Eric Cantor and Fox News echo him today.
Meanwhile, the Dachshund Friendship Club is, in its small way, proposing that we all live together. “A friendly interaction between us all” is a good prescription. One way to get there is to recognize the benefits of prosperity that is spread more widely than it is today, that Main Street and Wall Street need each other, and that we’re one country with responsibilities to one another.