The causes of ‘social unrest’

Republican condemnations of Occupy Wall Street and related protests are increasingly common — “un-American” appears to have become a standard talking point fairly quickly — but I heard a new phrase yesterday that stood out: “social unrest.”

The right-wing chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appeared on “Meet the Press” yesterday, connecting the demonstrations to President Obama’s agenda and rhetoric. Consider this exchange:

PAUL RYAN: I think this divisive rhetoric is fairly — is divisive. I think it’s troubling. Sowing class envy and social unrest is not what we do in America.

DAVID GREGORY: You think that’s what the president’s doing.

PAUL RYAN: I think the president is doing that. I think he’s preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and anger, and that is not constructive to unifying America.

The condemnation was eerily similar to the attacks the right made against FDR after the launch of the New Deal, which suggests Obama is probably on the right track.

But I’m fascinated by the notion that the president is generating class-based “social unrest,” an apparent reference to Occupy Wall Street, which is engaged in lawful protests against economic injustices. Eric Cantor raised the prospect of the activists representing a “mob” last week, and now we’ve apparently seen the transition to “social unrest.”

What I wish Paul Ryan could understand, however, are the socio-economic conditions that exist in the real world. A growing chasm between rich and poor contributes to social unrest. Rising poverty contributes to social unrest. A lengthy jobs crisis contributes to social unrest. Falling middle-class incomes contribute to social unrest.

In Ryan’s mind, however, what really contributes to social unrest is President Obama — who’s already cut taxes more than Bush/Cheney did, and whose rhetoric mirrors that of Ronald Reagan — simply talking about the wealthy paying a little more in taxes. This kind of presidential leadership, which polls show enjoys public support, Ryan tells us, is somehow dangerous and “not constructive to unifying America.”

And what, pray tell, would be? Presumably that would be Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would eliminate Medicare, scrap investments that benefit the middle class, and lavishing even more tax cuts on the very wealthy.

It’s an agenda based on a rather twisted worldview.