Jewish Journal

The City Council’s Shameless Pander

by  David A. Lehrer

October 20, 2011 | 3:54 pm

Pander — to indulge somebody’s weaknesses or questionable wishes and tastes.

When Webster comes out with its next edition, it might have as an exemplar of the phenomenon the resolution recently introduced and co-authored by seven members of the Los Angeles City Council on the Occupy Los Angeles demonstration.

City Council members Alarcon, Rosendahl, Huizar, Koretz, Zine, Reyes and Garcetti introduced the resolution that offers the “SUPPORT (sic) [of the city of Los Angeles] for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles’ on the City Hall lawn.” Last week the Council unanimously (with three absences) adopted the statement of support.

This official endorsement of an amorphous cause whose purpose has yet to be defined might be ascribed to the electeds’ eagerness to identify with the underdog and those battered by economic hard times. A few demonstrators camp on the grounds of City Hall, rail against Wall Street and big banks, attract a few movie stars, and Messrs. Alarcon et al. figure they have nothing to lose — after all, who loves big banks?

But the three-page council resolution goes beyond just expressing sympathy for demonstrators at First and Main streets; it lauds Occupy Los Angeles as “fueled by Angelenos from all walks of life who have come together in a demonstration of solidarity with and support for the national movement started by the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests.” The resolution proceeds to cite the Web site of the Occupy Wall Street movement as an “overview of the goals and unifying principles of the ‘Occupy’ movement.”

Elected leaders who write our laws and hope to command our respect can’t facilely pander to the sentiment du jour and hope to retain their credibility. “Indulging” (Webster’s word) the demands of constituents without discriminating between what is legitimate and what is extreme or media hype betrays a troubling lack of principles.

The Council resolution, by citing the Occupy Wall Street resolution with approval, mindlessly invokes a manifesto that is, to be generous, bizarre; akin to junior high school level Marxism. An observer of the Wall Street demonstrators noted a striking resemblance to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s 2004 “Team America” movie, “in which a disgruntled and effusive Tim Robbins puppet complains that ‘the corporations sit there in their … in their corporation buildings, and … and, and see, they’re all corporation-y … and they make money.’ ”

It is a collection of angry accusations against corporations — who are uniformly accused of “place[ing] profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, [and who] run our governments.” “They” are accused of virtually every crime (from murder to poisoning) plaguing the world but for droughts in the Sahara. A sampling:

“They” have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

“They” have poisoned the food supply through negligence and undermining the farming system through monopolization.

“They” have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

“They” purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

“They” have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

“They” have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

That is not even to mention the troubling connection of the Occupy Wall Street folks to Adbusters magazine and its noisome history (see David Brooks’ Oct. 10 New York Times piece).

That our local political leaders might imply support for such conspiratorial and incendiary charges by endorsing broadly the Occupy movement is troubling —their specific citation of the Wall Street document’s paranoia is mind-boggling. Either they have staffs that don’t bother to fact check data included in documents that they sign, or even more disturbing, they actually believe this errant nonsense.

The latter may be the case, since even a cursory review of the Occupy Los Angeles Web site ought to give a politician pause about embracing this inchoate collection of paranoia. The Web site includes a section titled “Rothschild’s Illuminati Will Fail! Jesus for President” — which refers to a long-standing loony conspiracy theory with anti-Semitism at its heart — as well as a call to ban military recruiters from high school campuses, among other provocative themes. Certainly enough to give a mainstream politician pause about identifying with a view of the world that ultimately will view them as the enemy of the victimized “99%” too.

Occupy Los Angeles and its analogues are a collection of grievances with no particular political or rational coherence; they seem to have attracted both genuinely hurting folks, and political extremists and conspiracy-mongers. They have an undisputed right to express their concerns and their anger; that is beyond question.

But, the demonstrators must be parsed from the 10 members of the City Council who have cast their lot, and the reputation of this city, with this teeming bundle of populist anger that is simply a balm for feeling superior and pure. Leadership means more than pandering to the base from which one hopes future votes might come — it means separating moderates from extremists, rational advocates from screaming conspiracy theorists and serious critics from perpetual complainers. We desperately need leadership on L.A.’s City Council who can tell the difference. Its absence in this case is telling.

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