The Joplin Globe editorial page this morning presented a remarkable contrast of opinion regarding the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. The Globe printed a previous blog post by liberal blogger R. Duane Graham, a post in which he evaluated Republicans’ reactions. Herman Cain called the protesters “un-American” and “anti-capitalist”, and implied that the demonstrations were probably part of Obama’s re-election strategy. He also mentioned Rep. Eric Cantor’s concern about violence from the “mobs”. Significantly, his column was titled (by the Globe), “Unfocused protest . . . “, appropriate because the demonstrations appear to have no single objective or leadership, but rather are spontaneous.
In contrast to Graham’s column there was one by political columnist and former Fox News host, Rachel Marsden. She had nothing but contempt for the OWS crowd and chose to compare their “whining” as a plea for government to do for them what she feels they should do for themselves, that is, stop causing trouble and be self-sufficient, like, well, like she was.
Marsden says she has a consulting business which offered jobs to some of her “whining” friends, only to have them spurn the offer. The details are a little vague. She presents herself as an exemplar of the conduct the demonstrators should emulate, having started out living in a cramped NYC apartment with three others and sharing bathroom facilities. She now extolls her own success in running her own consulting business.
I see truth in both of these contrasting views. The OWS crowd is indeed unfocused and leaderless, and the GOP is virtually unanimous in blaming them for their own failures. Many young people today, raised in a permissive culture, have indeed fled back to their parents’ or grandparents’ homes rather than toughing it out on their own. On the other hand, some in the crowd have been out of work for more than a year and are now being spurned for a job exactly for that reason. It’s easy for me to imagine how I would feel if I were in that situation and read Marsden’s column. Her picture is on her column – she is a remarkably pretty woman. I would be asking myself, what right does she have to condemn us when she started out before the Great Recession, when she was obviously, and unlike most people, born both intelligent and good looking? Who paid for her education? Who paid for her healthcare and upbringing? Does she really think she did it all on her own?
Graham, to his credit, did offer an historical perspective to the problem by recalling a student uprising in the mid-1930’s during the Great Depression, an uprising in which demonstrators questioned capitalism and embraced isolationism as national policy. But I would like to submit a further example. The Bonus Army event also occurred during the Great Depression and it bears similarities. With unemployment probably double what it is now, some 43,000 marchers, including 17,000 WW I out-of-work veterans and their families descended on Washington, D.C. in 1932 to plead for advance payment of promised “bonuses”, otherwise scheduled to be paid in 1945. They were peaceful but stubborn, encamping in a ramshackle “Hooverville” near the Capital that proved an embarrassment to the Hoover administration.
There is a good Wikipedia page about the incident, so I won’t go too much into the details, but will provide a summary. The administration sent the U.S. Army in to evict the demonstrators. Armed troops, supported by six tanks, rousted the rag-tag lot of them and burned their Hooverville shacks to the ground. The effects are described by Wikipedia this way:
After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, an arsenical vomiting agent, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling the Bonus March was a Communist attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. A veteran’s wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack, a government investigation reported he died of enteritis, while a hospital spokesman said the tear gas “didn’t do it any good.”
How is the Bonus Army event similar to the OWS demonstrations?
- It occurred because of discontent with hard economic conditions and intractable high unemployment.
- It involved peaceful but determined demonstrators.
- It involved a mix of complainants, less than half being veterans.
- It was viewed with fear and contempt by a conservative political administration which questioned their patriotism.
- An atmosphere of political paranoia about marchers’ motives, with particular mention of communism.
- The two political parties had very different opinions about the nature of the demonstrators and how to deal with them.
What was the resolution of the Bonus Army problem? In short, the incident proved a serious public-relations blow to Herbert Hoover’s re-election chances and he was soundly defeated by FDR. Interestingly, FDR also opposed paying the bonuses early, but he did send wife Eleanor to pay a sympathetic visit to their secondary camp and offered work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. A Democrat Congress ended up paying the bonuses early after all, in 1936, by over-riding an FDR veto.
I think history can raise complex questions about apparently simple serious problems, and I think this is one of them. What do you think?
- Wall Street protest’s historical roots (cnn.com)