I've never been much of a sign-wielding protester. But I often wonder why Florida lacks a sense of civic activism to get off the couch and make a public stink over unfairness, corruption or just plain greed.
I hear there's plenty of that going around.
So I am impressed that the Occupy Wall Street event that started so modestly in lower Manhattan has spread as far as Tampa Bay, where Occupy Tampa assembled in a downtown park and, come Saturday, will crop up at an Occupy St. Petersburg gathering in South Straub Park.
Most mainstream media seem rusty in covering protests. They choose "nobody's sure what they really want" remarks leading off much of their coverage in New York City. It sure seems obvious to me. They want the astonishing income inequality in our society to become less lopsided. They want Wall Street to contribute to the country's future instead of bonus-bulging financiers literally crafting investment schemes to make money for hedge fund insiders but purposely lose money for blindsided investors.
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain calls Occupy Wall Street protesters "un-American, and anticapitalist." Conservative talk show personality Glenn Beck characterizes them as "Marxist radicals" who "will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you."
Conservative thinkers like American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Peter Wallison suggests the easily snookered mob is protesting against the wrong folks in the wrong town. Writing an opinion piece headlined "Wall Street's Gullible Occupiers" in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Wallison argues the real culprit is the federal government. He writes:
"The narrative that came out of these events — largely propagated by government officials and accepted by a credulous media — was that the private sector's greed and risk-taking caused the financial crisis and the government's policies were not responsible."
Cain should celebrate our right to free speech and peaceful protest. What's so un-American here?
Beck is typically over the top. I don't even have a comeback for his bizarro remarks.
Wallison, I suggest, is right. Bumbling federal oversight of the financial markets is worthy of protest … in addition to Wall Street.
But Wallison — I remember him best as general counsel to President Ronald Reagan — is wrong to lay no blame on Wall Street bankers. He argues people have been fed a false story that the "financial crisis and ensuing deep recession was caused by a reckless private sector driven by greed and insufficiently regulated. It is no wonder that people who hear this tale repeated endlessly in the media turn on Wall Street to express their frustration with the current conditions in the economy."
So it was the federal regulators who coerced Wall Street to package dud mortgages and re-sell them around the globe to unsuspecting investors?
And was it the feds who forced top Wall Street executives to accept pay packages topping $25 million, $50 million and even $100 million for hawking lousy investments for big fees during those go-go years?
Tell me another fairy tale. Better to understand the protesters than demonize them.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]