Political Animal


October 10, 2011 8:00 AM The causes of ‘social unrest’

By Steve Benen

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.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on October 10, 2011 8:10 AM:

    One sees what one is paid to see, and ignores that which does not line ones pockets.

    And when one can't ignore that which is going on around them, one does what one can, and has to, to protect the people lining the pockets.

    Ryan and Contor are puppets.
    Well paid, well taken care of, evil puppets.

    OWS - Keep rattling the cages!
    The Zookeepers are getting nervous.

  • NickNayme on October 10, 2011 8:16 AM:

    It is quite possible that Paul Ryan fully understands the socio-economic conditions that exist in the real world. But as those facts do not fit his narrative, they cannot be acknowledged.

  • FRP on October 10, 2011 8:19 AM:

    You swing the cudgel you have not the one you wish you had .

  • Skip on October 10, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Paul Ryan is a putz of the most reprehensible magnitude. His party has done little else these past years than work that very method of preying on American's emotions of fear, envy, and anger, using blame, recrimination, and derision not only as their most effective campaign tool, but as the basis of their entire weak pitiful platform, having nothing to give the American people except to push hot buttons and shout about God hard enough to rile the masses and get elected.

    This statement from Paul Ryan is a perfect example. Even he can't believe the garbage he spews.

  • joan on October 10, 2011 8:20 AM:

    In republican speak, the Tea Bag people, financed by Dick Armey & Co, wearing silly teabag hats, carrying offensive racial signs, pictures of Obama as a witch doctor, and sauntering around with guns are good American patriots, as Nancy Pelosi remarked - they spat on members of congress while being cheered by members of congress.
    OWS - a truly grassroots movement, peaceful, no offensive signs, no guns and a hundred times larger than the tea bags are depicted as unruly mobs, now republicans are saying they must not be legitimized (Peter King) and that they are un american.
    God bless OWC, keep doing what you are doing, they are getting scared of you!

  • ant on October 10, 2011 8:25 AM:

    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.


    (captcha sucks)

  • FRP on October 10, 2011 8:32 AM:

    Channeling a Joan (or , thats what I thought)

    Crooked Little Man

    Oh, no, don't let the rain come down (repeat until dizzy , repeat)
    My roof's got a hole in it and I might drown
    Oh, yes, my roof's got a hole in it and I might drown

    Well, this crooked little man and his crooked little smile
    Took his crooked sixpence and he walked a crooked mile
    Bought some crooked nails and a crooked little bat
    Tried to fix his roof with a rat-tat-tat-tat-tat

    Now this crooked little man and his crooked cat and mouse
    They all live together in a crooked little house
    Has a crooked door with a crooked little latch
    Has a crooked roof with a crooked little patch

  • Jim B on October 10, 2011 8:33 AM:

    I don't think the R's have had an original thought since Lincoln was President. They accuse their opponents of what THEY are guilty of. Over and over and over.

  • lou on October 10, 2011 8:39 AM:

    The big takers have enough clout in D.C. to keep the gate controlling their flow cranked to fully wide open. They bought that gate and by god they intend to keep their hands on the crank. No matter that the entire watershed of the nation funnels into their channel. If a drought occurs any where upstream, no matter. If the channels need upgrading, no matter. Just keep the freaking flow coming and don't ask how they use it. Keep what trickle you need to survive upstream but don't you dare try to divert any more of the flow to sustain the watershed or god forbid try to put your hands on their gate. So goes the wealth/commonwealth.

  • DAY on October 10, 2011 8:39 AM:

    When is doubt, turn to The Bard:
    "Me thinks the gentleman (men) protests too much."

    Like Bill Murray, I awoke once again this morning, not to Sonny and Cher, but to Rush Limbaugh's daily screed on my clock radio. This time it was to vilify in the most outrageous terms the 99%ers.
    Oh, goody! The 1% are scared shitless that the jig is up, the end is near, the American People see at last that the emperor is indeed bare ass nekkid, -and laughably lacking in the department that most matters to these Masters of the Universe.

    At long last, we have thrown open that window, and are yelling, "I'm mad has Hell!"

  • bdop4 on October 10, 2011 8:40 AM:

    Same as it ever was.

    Someone should juxtaposition these statements to their identical counterparts during the Depression, McCarthy hearings, Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. They are a broken record.

    The assertion that "Obama is behind this" is hysterical.

    Most of the OWS diatribe is directed against Obama for his failure to fight for the 99%.

  • jprichva on October 10, 2011 8:43 AM:

    They're terrified of OWS for one simple reason: they have tried mightily to portray the Tea Party as a groundswell of public anger instead of the corporate-funded sham that it is, and OWS is a genuine grass-roots movement dedicated to equality and the value of every citizen. It is funded by thousands of small donations, not Dick Armey and the Kochs.

    In short, OWS exposes the lies of the Tea Party just by existing. No wonder they're terrified. They can see the pitchforks and hear the crackle of the flames.

  • delNorte on October 10, 2011 8:59 AM:

    Interesting that OWS is getting their attention, when it's a pretty polite, relatively small protest. Think of what kind of fear a march and gathering like MLK Jr at the Lincoln Memorial would generate.

    Republicans are exposing a weakness - they can play their games as long as everyone toes the line, keeps watching TV, and goes with the status quo. Start challenging them, though, and their narrative, and they begin to piss their pants like the bullies they are.

  • FRP on October 10, 2011 9:16 AM:

    George Will coolly assessed the Occupy Wall Streeters as a good thing . His humble estimation revealed that because of the incivility of these swaggering malcontents that we , good decent Americans , would win the Vietnam War and reelect the president , Nixon of course . After which the inevitable thousand year reign of sensible rule from the heart of America , Wall Street .

  • max on October 10, 2011 9:19 AM:

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

    Only a divisive extremist talking to a lazy journalist could accuse someone of using the GOP playbook for any election and still keep a straight face.

  • Steve Paradis on October 10, 2011 9:40 AM:

    Clearer every day that Ryan has spent his adult life avoiding any intellectual challenge to the worldview he acquired reading "Atlas Shrugged". Like Dale Carnegie, it's an infallible tell that you're dealing with a stunted intellect.

    Which is why he'll never leave the House, despite the likes of Kristol trawling for another dope to push for President. Ryan knows that those kids who laughed at him when he talked in class are still out there, waiting to laugh again.

  • jhm on October 10, 2011 9:56 AM:

    It's the same old story, let the haves take until the rest cannot give anymore. Any attempt to find a happy medium is limiting to freedom.


  • g on October 10, 2011 9:59 AM:

    If they were wearing teabags hanging off their hats, it wouldn't be "social unrest."

  • Trollop on October 10, 2011 10:10 AM:

    I think hes preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and anger, and that is not constructive to unifying America

    Yeah, kind of like your "legislation" there, huh Mr. Ryan..?

  • grunmann on October 10, 2011 10:30 AM:

    "...Sowing class envy and social unrest is not what we do in America..."

    Actually, we do that every time we show a commercial for a luxury car, talk about the absolute necessity for granite counter tops, make lists of the "right" schools from which one should receive an MBA, etc., etc.

  • delNorte on October 10, 2011 10:36 AM:

    If they were wearing teabags hanging off their hats, it wouldn't be "social unrest."

    Here's an idea: maybe OWS should take back some of the tea bagger's symbols (such as the Gadsen "Don't Tread On Me") - that would confuse the right, and the media, to no end.

  • jjm on October 10, 2011 10:46 AM:

    Found this quote, apparently from George Clooney, on ThinkProgress;

    George Clooney:
    "I'm disillusioned by the people who are disillusioned by Obama, quite honestly, I am," "Democrats eat their own. Democrats find singular issues and go, 'Well, I didn't get everything I wanted.' I'm a firm believer in sticking by and sticking up for the people whom you've elected.

    "If he was a Republican running, they'd be selling him as the guy who stopped 400,000 jobs a month from leaving the country. They'd be selling him as the guy who saved the auto-industry. If they had the beliefs, they'd be selling him as the guy who got rid of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' who got Osama bin Laden. You could be selling this as a very successful three years."

    "I'm angered at the polarization," he said. "Having growing up around television news, I'm angered at the way things are presented. I'm worried about the content. I'm worried about who's minding the store, and I'm worried about the idea that 24-hour news doesn't mean we get more news, it just means we have this repetitive cycle of things that aren't factually accurate."

  • zandru on October 10, 2011 10:49 AM:

    "preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and anger"

    How DARE they? Those are Republican™ trademarks!

    As for "social unrest", that's what they called it back in the 1960s. It's a code phrase that opens the old memory gates and evokes Uppity Negroes, Dirty Hippies, race riots, anti-war protests, sex drugs & rocknroll - and really turns on the Tea Bag set.

    It's particularly loathesome that someone as young as Cantor is taking that stroll down what for him is PRE-Memory Lane, for crass political purposes.

  • zandru on October 10, 2011 10:53 AM:

    @FRP: George Will

    Thanks for your comments - I have long thought of George Will as being the last surviving Victorian dowager.

  • samsa on October 10, 2011 11:36 AM:


    'In loose popular usage, dowager as a stand-alone noun may refer to any elderly woman, especially one who is wealthy or behaves with dignity.'

    All except the last one apply.

    George Will's apparent dignity was lost a long time ago. He always has been just a lapdog of the Republican flavor of the month.

  • 4jkb4ia on October 10, 2011 1:10 PM:

    This is really baloney. Obama is saying that the rich have to sacrifice so as to drive home his broader point that everyone should have to sacrifice.