democrats being vicariously smug: newsroom and the collective failure of the ruling party

by isaac black

Newsroom regularly makes me upset, though it is typically because of something aesthetically tone-deaf and maudlin. This last episode though, made me upset because of its lazy, dismissive treatment of Occupy Wall Street. The embodiment in the show of the amorphous, leaderless movement, ironically enough, was a single person, albeit an articulate female PhD candidate. The requisite comparison to the Tea Party was made, though not dwelt upon.

I was squirming during the entire episode. The characters we’ve been led to love felt too much like the teachers, older relatives, bosses, etc who were quick to dismiss, with apparent personal pleasure, the questions I started to wonder about in my adolescence, weighty questions about life, art, time, money. Any venture outside the established order of things was met with the same responses Will McAvoy and Mackenzie used on the OWS representative: “what’s your plan? what good would that do? you’re being unrealistic.” It was irritating.

I don’t think it at all coincidental that the person representing OWS was female. I’m not personally female, and so I may not have had the same emotional reaction as a woman might when Will talked her into a corner on his show. But if we were to map the Democratic Party and the (various) Occupy Wall Street movements onto a gender binary, the Dems would be male and OWS would be female. OWS, with its lack of hierarchy, emphasis on inclusion, and hesitance to declare an endgame, frustrates the traditionally masculine logic of “getting shit done.” What Aaron Sorkin does not seem to want to realize is the case to be made for a leaderless, feminine resistance movement.

If you’re listening, Mr. Sorkin, the problem with policy in the US is structural. It’s not that the people lack the will to change or are ignorant of the issues that you want taken up in Congress. Opinion poll after opinion poll–on same-sex marriage, gun control, healthcare reform–demonstrates a Congress that is out of step with the American public. Your suggestion is that Occupy should have run a candidate or should have lobbied a candidate to pass a law? That would have accomplished more, I presume? The Occupy candidate would have torn through Congress arm in arm with Elizabeth Warren, Dennis Kucinich, and Olympia Snowe in a Mr. OWS Goes to Washington triumph.

I have a rebuttal for that delusion. For one, despite the dismissive mainstream media coverage (maybe you didn’t realize this, Mr. Sorkin because you were too busy taking crib notes from MSNBC), OWS was terrifically successful at effecting a concrete instance of change. One of the top 5 concerns of protestors was the fact that Congresspeople could legally engage in insider trading; they were allowed, under the law, to make trades based on any information they may have gained from their work on the hill. But after OWS took issue with this patently unfair practice that was somehow passed over by every corporate news station, lo and behold, the STOCK act was, rather quietly, introduced and passed with a wide margin.

The law has since been riddled with loopholes (sound familiar?). So there. There’s your result, there’s your endgame. Are you going to change your tune on OWS?

Secondly, maybe the reason you think that OWS is so ineffective and therefore a huge waste of time (or an existential threat that your psyche is dismissing with condescension) is that you benefit tremendously from the status quo, aside from the occasional aggravation related to assault rifles with 40-round magazines. Maybe “inclusion” seems like hippie bullshit to you because you’re a wealthy white male who is setting the terms of the discussion.

The point of Newsroom seems to be that the media is cowardly. Point taken, and I admit I get a cathartic thrill from seeing Will McAvoy savage a bigot on his fictional TV program. This point loses its savor when the writer(s) of the show forfeit beam-in-my-eye introspection for an absurd daddy-daughter moment between the (obviously!) female OWS protestor and Will Mcadouche.

Democrats are playing the same game as Republicans, and any challenge to the way the game is played gets met with dismissal and anger. But let’s look at how well the game has been played for the last four years: one American citizen (at least) executed without charges or a trial, thousands of civilians killed by drone strikes and classified as enemy combatants with Orwellian obituaries, a toothless financial reform bill that leaves the American taxpayer just as exposed as we were in 2008, the merciless prosecution and vilification of whistleblowers, and daily revelations on how much exactly the federal government is spying on its own citizens. The war in Afghanistan has ramped up, and Guantanamo Bay, instead of being shut down, is force feeding those prisoners (still no charges) on hunger strike. Obama has been playing “What Would Nixon Do?” and all good liberals are expected to shut up and pull for the home team? And by the way, I voted for the guy in 2008.

The difference between an American mainstream liberal and a conservative on fiscal policy has nothing to do with how wealth is created and everything to do with how it’s distributed. Democrats tend to not have a problem with the war machine that enforces our global economic interests, the exploitative business practices of late capitalism, or the socialism-for-the-wealthy model of corporate welfare. They’re happy to let the workers keep buying from the company store; they just think we should up the amount of food stamps they’re given to do it with.

Occupy Wall Street, as well as numerous, people-driven movements across the country that suffer from, in addition to the rigors of organizing, a lack of exposure and resources, asks the questions that demand answers. Why they aren’t answering those questions for Will McAvoy is because Will McAvoy needs to answer the questions himself. He’s not the only one failing, unfortunately.

Cue Coldplay montage.