The conversation at a Diwali party in San Jose turned political. There were many, like me, who were frustrated specifically with President Obama, and with Democrats in general. It prompted a friend to send me a list of the President’s accomplishments the next day. I couldn’t be more surprised! It was a long list of significant achievements. Each item was meaningful to me: a quintessential middle-class Indian American.
What surprised me more was that I wasn’t aware that so much had been achieved. I am a voracious reader of news and follower of important political and policy debates in the country. It seems to me that, in the din created by the Tea Partiers, I had gone temporarily deaf. Of course, it is also possible that my hearing was just fine but there was only noise coming out of the mainstream media. The man on the street may have been looking for alternatives to rightwing rhetoric, but I recall a debate on television where Democratic pundits were advising that creating a counter movement to Tea Party would only increase the shrillness of the debate.
It is worthwhile to remember how Ronald Reagan often used to take his case to the people. His effective message was that the Democratic congress was not allowing him to do the right thing for the nation. He took his case to people even against the then-speaker of the house, the powerful and influential Tip O’Neil. One could argue that the media of Reagan’s time was different. It wasn’t the “24-hour news-as-infotainment” assault that we are subjected to today. But a more pertinent comparison, in my opinion, would be with the media in Lyndon Johnson’s or Nixon’s times. The point is that Reagan faced similar media intensity and scrutiny as compared to his predecessors and managed it well.
There is an even more relevant example of caustic opposition to administration, to a Democratic White House this time. President Clinton functioned under continuous bitter and personal opposition from Republicans. I cannot forget the vengeful attempts of Senator D’Amato, a New York Republican, to wrongfully attribute malfeasance in Whitewater dealings and the appointment of independent prosecutor Ken Starr to continually harass the First Family. The Republicans wasted tax payers’ money, nay my money, to pursue their vendetta. Despite the harrassment, President Clinton never appeared helpless. He talked to the people vigorously and effectively and won the second term hands down.
The Republican congress during the Clinton administration convinced me to switch from being an independent voter to a Democrat. Their current pandering to Tea Party lunacy has only vindicated my decision.
However, my recent disenchatment has been caused by the Democrats in office, not the Republicans. Looking at the efforts of this administration, I think the Democrats failed miserably in two ways—by not projecting their achievements and by not taking adequate action against the excesses of Wall Street. They have failed in sending the message that we, the people of the United States, do not want our government becoming a hostage of corporations. It offends me to watch people like Senator Ron Paul and Congressman Eric Cantor badger moderate Republicans as well as the administration to benefit one percent of Americans at the cost of rest of us. Moderate Republicans with sterling careers have had to bow down to the extremist wing of their own party, while Democratic leaders remain silent and largely invisible.
I can’t recall a single campaign by my own congresswoman from the SF Bay Area or the two senators of California to stop the prevailing political extortion going on in the country.Democrats, who were largely compliant with the previous administration’s decision to go to war, at the cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lost lives, and who approved budget-busting tax cuts and war appropriations, seem to have developed a “conscience” after the election of one of their own to the Presidency. Despite the very deep and very real hole the American economy is in, conservative members of the President’s own party are parroting the Republican mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy and emphasis on deficit reduction and austerity instead of investments in jobs for the suffering majority. There are many adjectives to describe this behavior if you are reluctant to use invectives.
But I digress.
Today I feel that American democracy has broken down and I don’t have any real choice. I am not going to vote Republican—that is a surefire route to become a victim of Tea Party jihad. Nor can I hope of achieving any change by voting for my local Democrats.
It comes as a great relief to me that there are some among us who haven’t lost the will to fight back. My salute to the “700 of Brooklyn Bridge” who got arrested for stepping down from the walkway while attempting to Occupy Wall Street! Most of the initial coverage in the New York Times, supposedly a bastion of “liberal media,” described how police trapped them. The Grey Lady spent hardly any ink describing the cause and the motivations of the thousands of people who have been camped out there for days. Even today, the focus of coverage is on the clashes between protesters and the police rather than the motivations of the disenfranchised and their demands.
In an echo of Gandhi’s message of non-violent non-cooperation, this group of individuals has decided to fight back by peaceful means. And now the message and the movement has spread to hundreds of cities across the nation, including San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I hope that this is a sign that Americans are finally ready to come out of their homes to demand an end to this looting by the elites of this country. And perhaps it will motivate my representatives in Congress to take a stand—for the people or against them.Check out for yourself how many executives of failed corporations were rewarded with golden severance packages. Is this how America became the world leader? By rewarding failure? I doubt it.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a ray of hope. To my fellow citizens in New York: Don’t forget the “300 at Thermopylae!” History is built by the mortar of the impossible.
Vijay Rajvaidya is an entrepreneur and a political activist.