Belmont Club

Curtain Raiser

“If Hitler invaded Hell,” Winston Churchill once remarked, “I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” Alliances make strange bedfellows,  not from love, but out of shared enmity.  The appearance of David DeGraw, a spokesman for the 99% Movement and Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party Patriots at the Dylan Ratigan show, was notable in that they agreed the common enemy was a predatory elite in Washington.  Of course, each defines ‘enemy elite’ in different political terms. But the significance of their superficial agreement lies in that the idea that Washington is the problem is now going mainstream.

Meckler spoke bluntly about what he thought the basic problem was.

Host: “There’s a belief in this country that the tea party and occupy movement have opposing goals. But there may be a basic underlying belief that both groups, along with every other group in America, shares. That we as Americans should not tolerate two sets of rules in this country that are sold off for money, tax favors, subsidy favors, all the things that happen in Washington, D.C., one set of rules for those purchasing them in Washington as a business and another set for those who either can’t purchase those rules or don’t know how. You’re a man, Mark, who appears to be a civilized and reasonable man … Do you agree with what I just said?

Meckler: I do agree. There are two sets of rules. I think most Americans are starting to understand that … at the base level … it’s this confluence of big governments or big union … The tea party has helped to create this discussion in america. that’s the greatest success of the Tea Party. certainly, people were elected, but more importantly, the debate has changed and these issues are now being discussed.

De Graw’s take was outwardly similar.

Host: We just spoke with Tea Party Patriot founder Mark Meckler about our most basic urge to resist any system that enforces two sets of rules, let alone two sets of rules sold off in secret at auction …

De Graw:As mark was saying, Tea Partiers look at big government. occupy wall street looks at big corporations and wall street. It’s the conclusion of the two, the concentration of power to the point now where we have 400 people in this country that have as much wealth as half the population. you have a concentration of power. we’re trying to break that and decentralize the power …

it’s a system of political bribery, campaign finance lobbying, the revolving door.

Books are now being published denouncing the “Permanent Political Class”, like Peter Schweizer’s “Throw Them All Out”.

the full story of the inside game in Washington shows how the permanent political class enriches itself at the expense of the rest of us. Insider trading is illegal on Wall Street, yet it is routine among members of Congress. Normal individuals cannot get in on IPOs at the asking price, but politicians do so routinely. The Obama administration has been able to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to its supporters, ensuring yet more campaign donations.

None of these developments should be interpreted to mean that the underlying beliefs of De Graw or Meckler have converged, any more than the views of Stalin and Churchill did in World War 2. But what it does suggest is that the legitimacy of the Washington elite is now open to question. The resentment is now a source of political energy that both the Left and Conservatives are trying to tap, each for its own purposes. Coalitions are fragile things, but the fact that they are even possible, albeit at the most superficial level is in itself remarkable.

While in Manila, a book author asked me how to approach an history of the anti-Marcos era. I replied that “you had to go back to 1969. You have to understand that it was the time of the great founding. Unless you remember that it was the year when everybody agreed there was a problem with the political system, the story will make no sense.” I said:

Everyone was inventing a group. There was the Sison Party backed by China; there were the regrouping remnants of the old Lava faction with their ties to Moscow; then there were the Church-connected groups with their tenuous funding links to the Western European social democrats, like the Federation of Free Farmers, the Federation of Freeworkers, the KASAPI and the Lakasdiwa.

There was even the Constitutional Convention being held at Manila Hotel. Everything was in motion because there was a shared sense that the existing Philippine Republic was in deep trouble. Everyone agreed on the question, but there was no consensus on the answer.

The status quo was becoming illegitimate. It was the nature of the successor state that was in dispute.

Three years later the Communists forced their answer on the public by engineering the attack on the political convention at Plaza Miranda so that the choice would be stark, something that suited Marcos to a T.

But it was not over. The real contribution of others was to keep the answer in doubt;  to create an effective opposition that was not totalitarian. Merely by continuing to exist they deprived the Communists of what they sought, which was to be the only alternative to the regime.

And it was in that preserved space that the People’s Power Revolution of 1986 occurred; the space that Sison did not believe could survive. And we won after all, and even though the old system died it did not perish solely to give way to a new to another completely dominant elite. Something had been achieved.

There is something about the 2012 that is very evocative of a period before a great discontinuity. The sudden emergence of voices from unexpected quarters; of reform efforts and breakaway movements; the whole atmosphere. Every student of history will have seen these before. Of course the annals of humanity never repeat themselves, but occasionally some of their entries resemble each other.


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