In 1968 at the height of the Viet Nam War, the idiosyncrasies of the left and the right were highlighted in a bromance movie, The Odd Couple, about two divorced men who learned to live together after divorces. Felix, the prim, compulsive cleaner, who invested Oscar’s money and who wrote the song “Let’s Hit Hitler Where He Lives” while in the army, was suicidal after his wife left him. He was saved by his prior schoolboy chum, Oscar, a gruff but fun loving slob of a beer drinking, poker playing sportswriter, who convinced him not to take his life but to share his apartment until life got better.
After America embraced the movie, these two characters moved onto television where for five years, they taught us how to tolerate each other as we watched Felix and Oscar humorously survive each other’s weekly differences. The Odd Couple soothed America’s mistrust of each other’s views. If Felix could clean up after Oscar’s carelessness and Oscar could live with Felix’s uptight attitudes, perhaps America could get back to living in peace and tolerance.
By 1975 however, America began to tire of the Odd Couple as we moved past Viet Nam and buried our feelings underground. Hippies and war heroes entered the baby boomer workforce and uncomfortably coexisted. As the left built the Great Society and the right escalated the Cold War, both seemed oblivious to the impact of their refusal to work together on America’s careening federal budget. America had failed to apply the tolerance of Felix and Oscar to our growing mess.
As the decades rolled past, our hippies and heroes grew old, sending their representative fisticuffs to Washington to stalemate each other’s view of the world. Neither backed down from their simultaneous wars against poverty and Marxist-Leninist economies. Yet glaringly obvious looking back, neither rose up to defend America from escalating government debt or globalization. Blinded by their competing ideologies, they fought each other instead of fighting together on behalf of all Americans.
Today, America’s right and left are once again facing off, this time in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, New York, as a band of demonstrators has taken up residency in the park to draw attention to their malaise. Gone are the feel good “Odd Couple” days of tolerance. Rather than embrace our democracy’s freedom of assembly, America’s financial and political elite instead have publicly knee jerked their indignant dismay at a rebellious and ungrateful new generation.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor denounced the mobs. Presidential candidate Cain called them Un-American. Media elite Ann Coulter compared their message to the Nazis. Michael Bloomberg, the 13th richest person in America with $18 billion dollars, as mayor of New York, attempted to enforce a peaceful disbandment of what he hoped was Occupy Wall Street’s leaderless disarray by declaring Zuccotti Park off limits for a thorough, Felix-like cleaning.
Yet, the growing band of anti-Wall Streeters drew strength from each display of intolerance. As their chants grew louder and their infantile attempts at pure democracy were broadcast on TV sets across America, some political wizard, unnerved by their foreign culture, must have directed a yet unnamed law enforcement authority to deal with this growing menace by mounting an overbearing New York Police display of intolerance against the demonstrators. In that first police action, NYPD allowed their bravery of 9/11 to be cashed in for the glass Manhattan beads of institutional elite puppetry.
NYPD’s actions, appearing excessive to many Americans, have unwittingly cast them as agents of plutocracy in sometimes scripted and terribly acted plays of demonstrators but at other times real, raw, emotionally charged moments of impropriety. Certainly, many Americans’ sensibilities of the laws of our nation are impinged by the demonstrators’ “lawless” assembly. However, misjudgments of the city’s law enforcement harshly reacting to “minor infractions” is igniting an unlikely martyrdom of a grungy, hippy movement throwback to the 1970s as Americans from all walks of life secretly root on these youthful, yet untrodden, defiants. As this generation of flower children beat their drums, chant down politicians, and defecate on police cars, Wall Streeters haughtily look down from their terraces to witness demonstrators being dragged from their idealistic demonstrations handcuffed in plastic riot cuffs with an occasional whip of a baton for good measure handed out by New York’s finest.
Tea partiers are separating themselves from the Occupy Wall Street movement, much as Felix would look apologetically around as if to say he wasn’t with Oscar after Oscar tossed a half eaten sandwich onto a polished lobby floor. During the past weeks, as others have painted similarities between the two groups, Tea Partiers have insisted that they have little in common, pointing to the Occupiers’ disrespect for law as well as to their unclear ideas influenced by fringe elements of Marxism and Anarchists. Occupy Wall Streeters, having found the Tea Party an equally odd coupling to their views of the world, are just as insistent that the two movements are “different”, pointing to media sensationalized representations of racist overtones some have claimed of the Tea Party as well as claims they are puppets of the financial elite.
Yet whether the uptight, law-abiding Felixes of the right, or the unkempt, law challenging Oscars of the left, both groups are really just the Odd Couple. Both were victimized by an America that divorced and walked out on them. Both found themselves jobless, homeless, swamped in debt, and facing bleak futures. One group lashed out at Republican and Democrat lawmakers who were willing to borrow America’s future to cover tax short falls of a swelling government. The other is lashing out at Wall Street that schemed to manipulate lawmakers into legislating a Rube Goldberg machine to extract America’s wealth, jobs, intellectual capital, and future to China. Both are fixated on broken parts of the same collective mess.
Yet unlike Felix and Oscar, who somehow managed to patch their differences by the end of each weekly sitcom, the two movements have yet to understand each other’s differences and sincere similarities. My guess is that they may never, choosing instead to fight the dragon from their separate camps. The proverbial dragon is so close to them that neither can see that they are clinging to different parts of the same beast.
So the Tea Partiers will continue to grab the dragon’s snout, galvanizing the right toward fiscally conservative lower taxes, lower spending and less regulation, while the Wall Streeters will hang onto its tail of mismanaged debt, credit, banking deregulation, and fair trade, to swell the left toward a populist job creation uprising. However, just as the humanity of Felix and Oscar prevailed over their differences, the cause of both of these two movements will swarm a collective army of social democracy to the gates of financial and political power in America.
How will this latest experiment in democracy end? In the Odd Couple’s last episode that aired in 1975, Felix’s wife took him back! Leaving Oscar’s apartment for the last time, Felix thanked Oscar for saving his life, picked up a soiled trash can and dumped its contents onto the middle of the floor to celebrate letting go. To show his growth, Oscar said that he would clean up the trash after Felix left. They hugged goodbye.
After Felix departed, Oscar looked down at the trash, stepped on it and walked out. Moments later, Felix snuck back in the door saying, “I knew he wouldn’t clean it up”. He neatly tidied up the mess he had deposited on the floor, placing it in the proper receptacle. Looking back on an orderly apartment, he sighed, smiled and exited for his return to a restored marriage and future.