We may not like what sometimes even more than half (or approaching half in other cases) of our fellow citizens believe on some particular issue, and we don’t have to support their views, but we can’t pretend they don’t really believe it; nor that we understand that issue better, and they would take our position if only we could educate them. That is, unless we don’t mind taking an implicitly arrogant posture towards our fellow citizens. And we should mind, if we’re to be worthy caretakers of the public square and the “99%”.
The 99%, as a slogan, confers a responsibility that we haven’t all been ready to accept, and we should reconsider using it if we ultimately cannot accept that responsibility. The 99% slogan is a short-hand for positions where a strong majority of Americans are frustrated by the policies of both Democrats and Republicans. For example, regarding the policy of the United States towards major banks and other financial firms during and after the 2008 financial collapse. Another is the foreign policy of the United States as it relates to war and forward deployment. But it is not true that “the 99%” are in agreement regarding other issues important to the political left generally: institutional racism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, or narcissistic, self-destructive patriotism, workers rights, education as a right, etc.
I support both a movement to create a real political left in the United States (as opposed to the faux-left of the Democratic party) AND a 99% percent movement that exposes the gulf on issues where the bipartisan Washington consensus trumps a majority, or even a super-majority of Americans. But they are not the same movement. They are also not mutually exclusive. An ascendancy of the left is not the same as a movement of the 99%, and yet there are left issues that enjoy super-majorities in public opinion polls. The necessity of creating a hyper-popular movement to oppose those components of the bipartisan consensus that frustrate the political will of a majority of Americans is not the same as a movement to reinvigorate and re-empower the political left.
And so we are left with the question of how do we properly house these two not-identical, but not mutually exclusive movements: an ascendancy of a real left and an ascendancy of a real democracy (i.e., the ascendancy of the 99%)? We need a third movement. The Tea Party or something else for the real right (not the cynical imitation of the Republicans), Occupy for the new left (not the cruel charade of the Democrats), and a third configuration for the 99%.
Consider that in a country that still celebrates Christopher Columbus Day in 2012, and where Arizona’s SB 1070 law enjoys 58% support among Americans*, that perhaps “the 99%” is not representative of all of our declared principles. We have to be honest with ourselves about this distinction if we’re to grow into a potent and irresistible political force.
*page 14 of linked The Economist/You Gov poll: 10. Support for Arizona’s new immigration law, Strongly approve 40.5% + Somewhat approve 18.3%.