Many polls conducted leave one to conclude that the American public is far to the left of their so-called “representatives” in Washington. A popular myth in the U.S. is that working-class people vote against their interest. Status quo liberals, bewildered that working-class people wouldn’t support the Democratic Party, commonly state this. They never reach the conclusion that what Noam Chomsky calls the “two factions of the business party”—the Democrats and Republicans—have left us disenfranchised. A popular myth touted by conservatives is that the U.S. is a “center-right” country. Right-wing radio hosts like Hugh Hewett frequently mention the center-right myth and John McCain said it several times while running against Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. This is an effective propaganda tool. If we’re told consistently that we’re a nation of centrist conservatives, then we better not voice our opinions that we’d like to end suffering through social justice measures—a popular idea since the beginning of this nation’s history.
One early example is Shay’s Rebellion, a struggle that began in August 1786. As the late, leftist historian Howard Zinn said of Shay’s Rebellion, it was “a rebellion of small, poor farmers against the rich of Boston who were over-taxing and taking over their land,” which debunked the notion that America “had such a pure and good and democratic beginning” and that our nation’s founding was less than benevolent. When it comes to democracy, as scholar and activist David Graeber states, the Founders were “uniformly opposed to it” and the Founders spearheaded a tradition among U.S. elites of disdain for the “masses” and their ability to make decisions collectively.
Some telling signs indicate the public doesn’t seem to be duped. All the talk of people “voting against their interest” doesn’t take into account what polls have shown—that 40 percent of us don’t bother to vote and who could blame us?
A 2011 ABC/Washington Post poll showed that 70 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Wall Street and 68 percent hold unsavory views of the Washington/Wall Street cozy alliance.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published findings that Washington works for the super-rich. IMF economists concluded that the amount of American taxpayer subsidies Wall Street received (roughly $83 billion) was roughly equivalent to the amount of the outrageous, and completely unnecessary, “sequester.”
Sequestration slashed social programs across the country in the name of “tightening the belt.” Programs that benefitted LGBTQ youth, young children, disabled people, and the elderly, were all impacted, while speculators and bankers received nanny state-like treatment in the name of their institutions being “Too Big to Fail.”
Bailing out capitalism on the back of working people is nothing new. David Harvey, in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, points out some historically recent—although seemingly forgotten—examples: “State power has often been used to bail out companies or avert financial failures, such as the U.S. savings and loan crisis [in the 1980s], which cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $150 billion or the collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management [in the 1990s], which cost $3.5 billion.”
The so-called crisis of the defense budget cuts is the media’s focus. The media’s shrewdness is grossly cynical as defense cuts seem to be the only realm of sequestration that has popular support. For example, the Washington newspaper the Hill published a poll that showed 49 percent of respondents support defense spending cuts. A February 25 article by Laura Seligman headlined, “The In his piece published in February on Washington’s Blog headlined “This Year’s Subsidy to Wall Street = the Amount of This Year’s Sequester Cuts,” Eric Zuesse pointed to a Bloomberg editorial summary regarding the IMF study, which revealed that nearly $64 billion taxpayer money went to the nation’s top 5 banks.
It’s not surprising that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had high levels of support among New Yorkers as 68 percent of NYC voters agreed with the views of the protesters, according to a 2011 Quinnipiac University survey. A national poll also found that 43 percent of Americans agreed with the aims of OWS. The media repeatedly tarnished, slandered, and repressed this movement into hibernation, misleading the public that the OWS encampments were full of violent, unsanitary, and unemployed trust-fund babies. In spite of the slander, the fact that 43 percent of Americans agreed with this movement’s aims speaks to the inherent appeal of OWS.
Speaking of a population to the left of its policymakers, a December 2011 Pew poll concluded that 49 percent of young people (aged 18-29) had a positive view of socialism. The same poll showed that African Americans favored socialism by 55 percent. Alexander Eichler summarized the results in a December 29, 2011 Huffington Post piece headlined “Young People More Likely to Favor Socialism than Capitalism.”
Perhaps the answer is a call for radical, grassroots democracy—meaning self-managing our own affairs and making decisions collectively. If we keep it up, we just might be able to dump Wall Street and Washington, opening up space for the creation of social and economic alternatives to the damning status quo.
Alex Bradshaw is an editor for the Louisville, Kentucky-based FORsooth, a mon- thly anti-war newspaper. He is an occasional commentator for “The Authority Smashing Hour” Internet radio show (alexbrad11@ hotmail.com).