How not to describe Occupy Wall Street

As a rule, I think political figures should be cautious about throwing around phrases like “un-American.” It’s one thing to use the line in reference to obviously offensive policies — “torture is un-American,” for example — but to describe Americans as un-American is generally an attack best left unsaid.

Someone might want to let Herman Cain know.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain says the Occupy Wall Street protesters are un-American and against capitalism.

Speaking to The Associated Press during a book signing event Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., Cain said the protesters shouldn’t rally against Wall Street bankers or brokers because “they’re the ones who create the jobs.”

This came the same day as Cain telling economic victims, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

Right. In Herman Cain’s mind, if you’re outraged by corporate excesses, and Wall Street recklessness has left you in dire financial straits, you’re lazy and you’re unpatriotic.

Lee Fang’s reaction struck me as the right one.

[I]t’s not anti-capitalist to protest an industry that was saved by trillions of taxpayer dollars and returned the favor by fighting against common-sense regulations. Plus, contrary to Cain’s assertion, Wall Street bankers are in the business of making money, not creating jobs. Many private equity firms make billions by buying out companies, laying off employees, and re-selling the company once it begins generating more profit. Other hedge funds and investment banks simply speculate on a number of different aspects of the economy, such as the price of oil.

Some ultra-profitable Wall Street firms have even turned toward cannibalizing their own, laying off brokers and other employees to pad quarterly profits. And considering the fact that risky Wall Street bets plunged the financial system and caused an unemployment crisis, Cain might be a tad out of touch when he suggests that Americans should be thanking Wall Street.

Keep in mind, Cain’s not the only one. Larry Kudlow called the protestors “un-American,” Sean Hannity said they’re “anti-freedom,” and the right in general has done its very best to characterize Occupy Wall Street as villains.

It’s just bizarre. Americans who support economic justice, tax fairness, and responsible corporate conduct are apparently supposed to be seen as enemies. While Americans who took to the streets, at corporate lobbyists’ behest, to complain about their economic anxieties in 2009 were to be celebrated, we’re told, these Americans are to be mocked and dismissed.

There’s no reason for the right’s worldview to be quite this twisted.