There is one thing most Americans have long agreed upon, no matter what else divides them: Big is bad. The Occupy Wall Street protests and the tea party movement both oppose what they see as big, out-of control forces devouring America.
But there is no agreement on the identity of the beast that must be slain. The tea party decries Big Government as the enemy. The Occupy Wall Street movement wants to slay Big Business, along with the forces of greed, consumerism and excess.
These are but the latest salvos in a long-running conflict. Our nation's history can be seen as an enduring civil war over whether Big Government or Big Business is the primary enemy of the people. The classic American question was best verbalised by a displaced tenant farmer in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath: "Who can we shoot?"
Three decades ago, Ronald Reagan ran against government while striving to restore the reputation of Big Business, and President George W. Bush continued both trends.
In the years since, federal tax receipts as a proportion of GDP have fallen by 4.1 percentage points. The share of national income going to the richest 1% has more than doubled, from 10% to 21%. And that is what has given rise to the “We are the 99%” protests.
The 2008 collapse provided an opportunity to restore public faith in Big Government. All the ingredients were there for President Obama and his party: they should be winning this Battle of the Beasts easily.
But they aren’t, because the American public has yet to see the government as being on its side against Wall Street.
What would re-establish Americans' faith in government — and what the Occupy movement is implicitly seeking — is the separation of corporation and state. Perhaps the movement will give the President and his party the resolve to make it happen. Or at least to wage the battle.
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