A new poll out from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service shows that just about the same number of American’s feel that Occupy Wall Street shares their values as does the Tea Party.
The split comes down partisan lines but is also generational. Eighteen-to-thirty-nine year olds are much more likely to feel that Occupy Wall Street shares their values then does the Tea Party.
What will be of great interest to watch over the coming months is the overlap between concerns of both movements. For example, neither group is a fan of the bank bailout and express an overwhelming feeling that elected officials aren’t responsive or accountable to those who elected them. I’m not arguing they will join forces any time soon, but they still could find a few areas of agreement.
What convinced me that common ground might be possible was another unlikely event, I read a column by Sarah Palin that I liked.
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal Palin took on the members of Congress that have been occupying Wall Street for quite some time, and not in the fun camping out, marching and wearing crazy costumes kind of way.
How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.
The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer [an author cited earlier in her column)] details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening.
Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it's easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).
There is a whole other question about whether Palin is the best messenger for such a critique. She did bail on being governor of Alaska before her term was up to focus on her multi-million dollar book deal and nearly six-figure speaking fees. Her brief stint in the national political arena put her solidly in the “1 percent."
But, Palin is speaking to a common and growing frustration.
Why does Congress exempt itself from some of the same rules and regulations it imposes on others?
How do the perks and money making relationships have undue influence on legislative and policy related decisions?
Why does it seem like no matter who we vote for the best we get is a new coat of paint on the same old politics?
Are our politicians all coming into office incompetent and corrupt or does the system itself turn the good ones bad or at least ineffectual?
Palin’s solutions include various types of transparency, disclosure and conflict of interest reforms. All good but I don’t think they would be enough to fix the system. We need campaign finance reform, the end of partisan motivated gerrymandering and maybe even the reviewing the process by which we cast our ballots.
People aren’t happy about the policies our politics are producing. But, frustration is growing at the very process by which these policies are made. Folks aren’t happy with the people in office but they are also beginning to get angry about the financial motivation behind decision making and campaigning. It’s not just the “what” and the “who” but the “how” and the “why” that gets people so upset.
That might be the common ground. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party would probably never agree on the “what” and the “who” but maybe they could team up on the “how” and the “why”.
Nobody likes to see the sausage get made in Washington. It’s always been that way. But, when everybody stops liking the sausage too, it might be time to change the means of production.
Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.