As you may have heard, some greedy low-life punks inhabit Wall Street right now. No, not the executives and bankers who torpedoed the American economy and caused a global financial crisis. Those people are honest hardworking folks. It’s the Occupy Wall Street protesters. According to many in Republican circles, these people are lazy socialists looking for government handouts. Fox News pundit and conservative media ratings giant Sean Hannity said this to an OWS protester: “You don’t believe in liberty, you don’t believe in freedom.” He also threw in a “Marxist” charge in there for good measure and probably said something about fascism and socialism since he and his Fox cohorts use all of those terms interchangeably.

The funny thing is, Hannity and other conservatives don’t seem to realize that OWS is actually similar to his beloved Tea Party. Both are angry about the various bailouts over the past few years — albeit for somewhat different reasons — and want to have their voices heard in the political process (the Tea Party has since gotten off economics and decided to focus on God, guns and gays, but stick with me here). I know Tea Party supporters are reading this and thinking: “You liberals slammed us for our protests, so if our movements are so similar, the OWS movement should be slammed too!” However, no one is criticizing the Tea Party movement for the fact that the party’s supporters wanted to express their opinions — the main gripe people have is with its policies and actions. Tea Party folks are the ones that brought guns to see President Barack Obama and shouted racial and gay slurs at Democratic lawmakers during the health care reform debate. More recently, they cheered Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s executions, applauded the idea of letting an uninsured sick man die and jeered a soldier for being openly gay.

So what does the OWS movement want, anyway? The message from OWS protesters has not been streamlined into a few cliché talking points because no leader has emerged yet. Nevertheless, the general complaints are that corporate influence in politics is too pervasive, the financial system is rigged for the rich and Wall Street is not being held accountable for its actions in destroying the economy. Sounds populist (or socialist, depending on perspective) enough, but top Republican presidential hopefuls are already taking their shots.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain said this to OWS protesters in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.” Hmmm … maybe he’s right — people need to assume more personal responsibility. Wait, what if you’re a public school teacher in Wisconsin who earns a starting salary of barely more than $25,000 to do the important work of educating the next generation? Or how about a private who has served in the Army for six years and still receives annual basic pay of less than $20,000 to defend our nation? Are they at fault for choosing a profession that pays so poorly? Next time I see a teacher or a soldier, I will be sure to tell them “blame yourself.”

GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney has also demonized the protesters, saying they are inciting “class warfare.” He is trying to say that the lower and middle classes are waging “class warfare” on the upper class, but I got confused because I thought the statement makes more sense the other way around. Check out these statistics: The United States has the 39th-most unequal income distribution in the world, behind almost all Western countries — incomes are actually more equal in Iran. And it’s no surprise because the wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. earns almost one-quarter of all income. Remember, if you don’t like these numbers, you’re fascist. And socialist. And whatever that last one is.

The main point I want to make is OWS is a movement that almost everyone should be able to appreciate and that even some of the richest (like Warren Buffet and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) are supporting. Conservatives will deride it as socialist, but if you think about it, who isn’t a socialist? Unless you are against every form of government wealth redistribution (like taxes going toward roads, highways, schools, police, firefighting, military, environmental protection, health care, food inspection, etc.), you are socialist at some level. It’s just a label. The people at OWS want the government and Wall Street to be accountable to the vast majority of people in this country, not a ruling elite class. If that idea makes me socialist, sign me up.

Dar-Wei Chen can be reached at chendw@umich.edu.

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