The far-lefties of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests have not yet put together anything resembling a coherent policy platform. That's fine; neither has the Tea Party.
There's another similarity. Just as the Tea Partiers have one clear fundamental belief - government must be as small as possible - so do the OWSers. Their fundamental belief is the absolute necessity to restrict or remove the advantages of wealth.
It's easy to call this socialism, and to an extent it is. If we take money by force from the "haves" and give it to the "have-nots," the "haves" no longer control their own means of production. A portion of their earning power has been enslaved to the Good of Society, just as surely as if the government confiscated and ran the People's Car Factory.
The story of America is filled with attacks on "wealth and privilege." Our Revolution was triggered by anger at an unaccountable, hereditary King; our Founders constantly warned of the dangers of immense wealth. As well they should: the French Revolution was a reaction against the overpowering wealth and authority of hereditary nobles, and the Founders grew horrified as they watched the bloody results unfold.
Our Constitution explicitly bans titles of nobility; the Founders backed early efforts to restrict the power of the great landowners of upstate New York who for a time ran operations similar to the great estates of Europe. America's first tax on inherited fortunes was enacted in 1797, though it came and went over the years.
At the same time, we've moved far closer to equality of opportunity. There was once a time when only the children of the wealthy could hope to attend Ivy League colleges; today, the finest colleges all have monster scholarship endowments to help supersmart or superconnected poor kids.
Does every single person have exactly the same opportunity to succeed? Of course not, but there is nothing in the law preventing people from bettering themselves to the best of their ability, and there hasn't been any such law for a long time.
American traditions have no problem with wealth, particularly if you earned it by hard work. Great Americans from the Founders on down have been somewhat concerned about the power of family dynasties and inherited riches, but in the main, those take care of themselves: "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." The current generation of Kennedys is barely upper-middle-class, a far cry from the world-class swag of Grandpa Joe Kennedy the rumrunner.
The OWSers seem to be offended, more than anything else, by the idea that malefactors of great wealth can buy elections and politicians so that the views of the little people matter not a bit. This is not wholly true, as the electoral failure of Ross Perot, Meg Whitman, and Carly Fiorina amply proved.
Besides the few examples of specific politicians who've failed in spite of money, though, we're buried in examples of issues where giant companies and super-rich individuals control political realities against the overwhelming desires of voters. For example, polls constantly show huge majorities of Americans wanting all illegal immigrants deported and the borders closed; yet both parties are united in the desire to do nothing, make symbolic removals only, or legalize illegals by fiat.
Corporations want cheap and insecure workers and make massive donations to politicians. Our elected officials happily provide low cost labor while gaining hordes of "undocumented Democrats," hopefully in time for the next election.
The list of "crony capitalists" is endless, from the lavishly-paid executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who reaped ill-gotten gains on the back of taxpayer subsidies up to the ongoing Solyndra scandal in which Mr. Obama shoveled money to prop up a failing solar-cell manufacturer with a totally upside-down business model. Americans of all parties can unite in disgust at this sort of fleecing; just because it's "business" doesn't mean it's honest, right, good for America, or what the voters asked for.
Then there is the iron triangle of public-sector unions, where dues are forcibly extracted from government workers and used by union bosses to elect Democrats who'll grow the size of government, hiring more unionized workers who'll pay yet more dues whether they want to or not. Only when a state skirts bankruptcy are there even attempts to stop the bloat and legalized theft, to much riotous protest by its beneficiaries.
How can we fix these problems? OWS proposes an answer, buried amidst a verbose morass: take the money out of politics.
Among other things, they want to reverse the Supreme Court's decision that corporations have free-speech rights; to "limit the influence of lobbyists"; and, to provide equal free TV time to all candidates.
What unites these demands? They all restrict or destroy the open "marketplace of ideas" that has been a hallmark of American liberty since colonial times. OWS doesn't like the ideas that are floating around, so they want to ban the process of spreading ideas they don't like.
Nobody can force you to listen to or agree with TV political ads paid for by corporations; why then should corporations be banned from making them? What is a lobbyist, but a person who is choosing to exercise his rights of free speech and to petition for redress of grievances? Sure, he's being paid; what difference does that make? If we start banning private citizens from saying what they want to say, or accepting money for saying what they want to say, we are no longer a free country.
Even equal TV time is anathema to liberty. Yes, "the public" owns the airwaves. Who owns the TV station, the broadcast towers, the cameras? Who pays the massive electric bills? How can a free country steal these resources from the people who paid for them?
What's more, what does "equal" mean? In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain ran for President - and so did Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party), Cynthia McKinney (Green Party), Bob Barr (Libertarian), and even independent Ralph Nader. All these folks got votes; should they all have equal TV time? If not, if some get more TV time than others, isn't some bureaucrat deciding the winner before the election is even held?
Sometimes the left calls for public funding of elections and a ban on donations from groups or even individuals. This may have the virtue of not stealing from TV station owners, but otherwise it makes the problem worse.
Public financing of elections still has the problem of equality vs sanity; do all candidates, even the no-hopers, get the same help, or does some bureaucrat get to decide who gets what? In all countries where elections are financed out of the public treasury, the incumbents write the rules which determine how much each candidate gets. Do we really want that?
Banning contributions creates a new problem - unless you are willing to prohibit political speech entirely, people with an opinion will still put their views out there. If they can't donate directly to Candidate X, they'll buy ads slamming Candidate X's opponent.
People can already buy whatever ads they please, of course; for most people, it's easier just to give money to the candidate.
This is good, because candidates who buy the ads have accountability and responsibility for the truth of what they say. Many candidates have been destroyed by airing an ad that was too offensive, too angry, or just plain lies.
If the ads aren't aired by a candidate, if they're put out by an independent group, what can you do? By definition the candidate has no control over them nor responsibility for them.
A slimy candidate could get away with a rude attack ad placed by "someone else, not me!" An honest one could be harmed by a scurrilous ad done by an overzealous supporter. Neither helps voters choose the best candidate, nor would lead to a cleaner elections.
No, taking money out of politics is not just wrong or un-American; it is just plain impossible in a free society.
What we need to do instead is to take politics out of money.
Why do businesses or ordinary people care about elections enough to spend their own money on them? Most of the time, it's because they expect to get something back for their money.
Where did Barack Obama get most of his billion dollars in campaign funds? Wall Street, that's where - so why are we surprised that the banks got bailed out and it's "business as usual"?
What was his other source? Labor unions. Why are we surprised that he bailed out Detroit with billions of our money and gave the companies to the unions? How is it shocking that companies everywhere donate to the politicians who can protect them from oppressive regulations or intrusive bureaucrats?
A business that has been placed under costly regulations has, by definition, a grievance. The owner or stockholders whose wealth was taken have a grievance too. Of course they have the right to petition for redress and to work to elect politicians who'll make life easier on them.
How can we stop the vicious cycle of warring lobbyists and political corruption? Simple: by taking away the influence being peddled.
Businessmen don't want to spend money on politicians; they'd rather buy corporate jets and other fun stuff. They buy politicians out of fear or greed, seeking protection or unfair advantage that politicians can deliver.
If, however, our government restricted itself to the Constitution, there'd be no need for either protection or influence; for most companies in most places, the government could neither help or individually harm them.
The Wall Streeters got a bailout because they could get a bailout, the Constitution could go hang. Coal companies invest in politics for fear that Barack Obama might, as he threatened while campaigning, intentionally bankrupt coal power plants by government dictat regardless of property rights supposedly enshrined in the Constitution.
Government has no business doing any of that! The Federal government has absolutely no authority to tell businesses what they must or cannot do. State governments do have this authority, but a state government that's too greedy or oppressive will simply drive business across the border into the next state over, providing a salutary lesson while still keeping the jobs in the United States.
The bottom line: Shrink the size of government, and the scope for corruption also shrinks.
That may not be the outcome the Occupy Wall Street crowd thinks they're seeking, but it is the only way to take the money out of politics: by taking the politics out of the money.
Maybe they should make common cause with the Tea Party?