Who Concerns Romney?

Once again, I don’t like or support Mitt Romney in any way. However, it disturbs me that I just scrolled down 26 different posts in my blogroll, bashing him for the following statements:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

“The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor,” Romney responded, after repeating that he would fix any holes in the safety net. “And there’s no question it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor . . . My focus is on middle income Americans … we have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.”

In any political campaign, he said, “you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich–that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor–that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

What Romney did here, in my opinion, was to reiterate the 99% versus the 1% slogan that the very same bloggers who now bash Romney for this statement have promoted for months. He is a little more honest than the #Occupiers in that he, at least, recognizes that we don’t have a uniform 99% of dispossessed people in this country. He, at least, does distinguish the people at the very bottom from those who have incomes of $100K or $1,000,000K per year. I think it’s very important to start mentioning the fact that there are huge differences in the lifestyles of the $150K and $15K per year crowds. As you all remember, I could never make my peace with the #OSW crowd because of its insistence that the millionaires, the almost-millionaires and the very poor were all in the same boat.

Now, as for Romney’s decision to focus on the middle class in his campaign, once again, he is doing the exact same thing that the #OSW has been doing. I think by now everybody has recognized that #OSW is all about the terror that the middle classes feel at the prospect of slipping down the social and financial scale (do I need to quote Zizek again?). So Romney is saying openly that he will concentrate on the concerns of such middle-class people. Even though, in my opinion, he vastly exaggerates their number, he is being far more honest than the #OSW has been.

We all know that, as a Republican presidential candidate, Romney could not possibly be expected to concentrate on the plight of the very poor. So why are we bashing him now? For being honest and voicing what most of the #OSWers feel but never admit to?


Why I Like the Russian Protests More Than the #OWS

I don’t think that the protests in Russia are going to achieve anything major in the nearest future. Putin is still going to win the next Presidential “elections” in Russia. Even if the elections are not falsified (which, as we all realize, is not likely), he will still win. Most people still like him (these are the folks who don’t read newspapers or blogs and only watch official pro-Putin channels on television). Besides, there is no opposition to speak of at the moment.

If we are to see any tangible results of the Russian protests, we will have to wait for a few years. It will take a while for viable opposition forces to emerge and produce their own leaders.

Still, I am a lot more enthusiastic about the Russian protests than I am about the #OWS. These are both middle-class movements. However, the peaceful Russian revolution of 2011 never pretended to be what it wasn’t. Its participants calmly explain in interviews, on their blogs and social networks that they are comfortably off, well-to-do, middle-class folks who are fed up with how their country is run. They don’t beg anybody for compassion. And they don’t regale us with stories of how they have wonderful, comfortable, debt-free lives but still “live in bated breath” because of some imaginary disasters. Most importantly, there is no swapping of tales of personal woe and misery that the #OWS protesters enjoy so much and that, more often than not, are inflated dramatically. For obvious reasons, the religious vocabulary that bothers me so much at the #OWS is also absent among Russian political agitators of the moment.

The Russian protesters say that they want to be in charge of their country’s politics. They talk about democracy, the voting system, the ways in which the currently existing parties are flawed, the way the budget is structured, the reasons why they are disappointed with Putin, the ways they evaluate the history of their country over the past 20 years. I have not read a single account, blog post, newspaper article, interview, etc. where a protester would plunge into a tale of his or her debts, employment history, educational achievements, sickness, marriages, etc. as part of his or her analysis of the political situation.

As we all know, personal is political. The way we live our lives is intimately connected to our politics. However, it would be a mistake to turn this statement around and say that political is personal. When politics becomes nothing but a bunch of personal narratives, we end up with a political reality where people elect presidents on the basis of their attractions as beer-drinking buddies, politicians’ personal lives matter a lot more than their policies, and a candidate’s success is defined by whether she can cry on cue or whether he bowls well. Only too often, the #OWS protesters approach the political arena as if it were a stage for a reality TV show, a place where personal dramas are to be aired for no other purpose than to allow an Oprahesque unburdening of emotions to occur.

Another reason why I prefer Russian protests to the #OSW is that the Russian protesters do not attempt to pretend they are proletarians when, in reality, they are middle-class folks. The vogue of brandishing fake working-class credentials is associated in Russia with the decades of the Communist regime. This is why nowadays people see nothing shameful in being financially comfortable.

The #OWS protesters, however, are tortured with middle-class guilt. This is why their “we are all in the same boat” slogans sound so hollow. I remember how my union organizer tried to convince me that he and I did not differ in any way from a truck-driver. At that time, he and I were students at one of the most prestigious grad schools in the world. We had great medical insurance, only had to teach for 50 minutes a day, and rarely woke up before noon. Unlike my union organizer, I hadn’t been born rich, so I didn’t feel any need to mask the silver spoon in my mouth by claiming I knew anything about the reality of truck-drivers.

This is, however, precisely what the #OWS does. Its middle-class participants mask their middle-class concerns behind the rhetoric of fake solidarity with the dispossessed. They self-righteously compete in producing stories of misery because they seem to believe that only misery entitles you to an opinion and to activism.

When the Russian protesters talk about their participation in the revolutionary movement, they always begin by explaining how they are entitled to be in charge of their country because of their success in running their lives, careers, companies, blogs, bank accounts, etc. The #OWS protesters, on the other hand, proudly claim failure as their chief qualification for the role of political activists.

A Very Old Joke: A Ukrainian at the #OWS

So a Ukrainian decided to join the #OWS protesters. They gave him a stack of informational leaflets to distribute among those who might potentially be interested in joining the protests.

On the next day, the Ukrainian comes back to the #OWS. He slaps a huge stack of banknotes on the table and sighs, “That’s the last time I let you guys give me such hard to sell stuff to peddle.”

From Kremlin to the White House

In what concerns the protests against the fraudulent elections in Russia, according to rumors, Kremlin has decided to “let those losers protest as much as they want.”

Does anybody else feel that similar conversations might have taken place in the White House about the #OWS protests?

Students on #OWS Protests

We were discussing Spain’s Indignados movement today and, of course, I simply couldn’t resist asking my students what they thought about the #Occupy protests.

Here are their responses:

“What’s #Occupy Wall Street?”

“Never heard of it.”

“I’m opposed because they are all corrupt.”

“I’m in favor because they want to stop the corruption in the government.”

“I’m in favor because they want to stick it to the big corporations.”

“I’m opposed because they keep whining how they are in debt. And if they took out all those credit cards to buy stuff, that’s their own fault.”

“They are OK, I guess.”

“Oh, that’s all just silly. I have no patience for those people.”

“I don’t care. I have more important things to think about.”


The other 55 students valiantly resisted my efforts to elicit their opinions on the subject. Many smiled enigmatically. I believe they didn’t want to share what they think because I made it impossible for them to guess what I thought of the #OWS.

And that’s a shame because I don’t grade on political opinions.

Eve Ensler’s Article on Rape

Eve Ensler’s recent anti-rape manifesto puzzled me. I fully support Ensler’s sentiment that rape is a horrible crime that should never be tolerated. However, I find some of her assertions to be very troubling. Take this one, for example:

 I am over women getting raped at Occupy Wall Street and being quiet about it because they were protecting a movement which is fighting to end the pillaging and raping of the economy and the earth, as if the rape of their bodies was something separate.

First, we saw progressive journalists drop hints as to the possibility of sexual harassment occurring at #Occupy rallies. Why such suggestions had never been made about the Tea Party protests is a mystery to me. Is there any evidence that progressively minded people are more likely to rape than conservatives?

Then, these suggestions about sexual harassment among the #Occupiers transformed into hints that women might fear being raped during the protests. Now, Ensler talks about rapes taking place during the protests as if they were an established fact.  Several questions arise, however. If, as Ensler says, women are keeping quiet about the rapes to protect the movement, then how did Ensler find out about these crimes? Did the raped victims share their stories with her? This makes no sense because if the goal of these rape victims is to protect the #OWS, letting Ensler write about it in such a charged format is probably the worst thing to do.

I also have no idea how Ensler arrived at her statistic of 1 billion of women on the planet having been raped. The OCCUPYRAPE term she introduces is very disturbing to me, too. Rape is a horrible crime and I see nothing positive in “occupying” something like this. And what is the “escalation” that Ensler is proposing? If this is a legitimate attempt at political activism, why not be a bit more specific about what the plan here is. This “let’s end rape by February of 2013” reminds me of the promises endlessly made by the Communist Party of the USSR to create a fully communist society by the year 2000.

It would be great if Ensler’s impassioned but hopelessly vague verbiage included references to the fact that the rates of violent crime (including rape) in this country have been on a steady decline in the past 40 years. The legalization of abortion in the US was a significant contributing factor to this phenomenon. Now that we know this, any anti-rape activism needs to include efforts to guarantee that all women have the right to control their procreation when and how they see fit.

This will do a lot more to end rape than passionate manifestos that make wild claims and operate on the basis of unsubstantiated statistics.