When the troubling news broke Thursday that the New York Police Department was planning to evict the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park, conservative pundits celebrated, just as they surely would if it were, say, a Tea Party protest being stopped on unclear legal grounds. Naturally, they tossed around assertions in total ignorance of the relevant facts. Take, for instance, Allahpundit of the widely read blog Hot Air. He writes, “Part of their problem is that they are, in fact, squatting on private property, and not even the mainstream left wants to set a new rule in which it’s okay for people to do that. (If they do, it’ll be used against them later, rest assured.) They’d be on firmer ground legally if they decamped to a public park.”
Actually, this is literally the opposite of the truth. As I explained for Good magazine yesterday, it is precisely because they were on a privately owned public space that Occupy Wall Street has been able to stay as long as they have. New York has an established body of law governing protest in public parks which requires permits and prevents long-term encampments. Violate the rules or fail to obtain the permits, and you could get arrested. I know conservatives idolize private property rights, so this might be hard for them to understand, but Zuccotti Park is not private property. It is privately owned public property, thanks to the 1968 agreement between US Steel, which got zoning variances in constructing its headquarters, now known as 1 Liberty Plaza and owned by Brookfield Office Properties. It is only because Zuccotti Park falls into a nebulous area that the NYPD maintained until Thursday that it did not have the authority to eject the protesters. On Friday morning Mayor Bloomberg granted Occupy Wall Street a reprieve, saying the decision to let them be came from Brookfield under political pressure.
It should come as no surprise that conservatives are misrepresenting Occupy Wall Street’s position on their right to be there, considering that conservatives have spent the last two weeks misrepresenting the substance of their views. National Review was quick on the draw, tossing up innumerable items on the subject last week. In more than one way they misrepresented the core contention of the protesters, as did other conservative writers. Instead of contending with the argument that financial deregulation, the influence of corporate money in politics and the flattening of our tax code have increased inequality, they change the subject. They point out, correctly but irrelevantly, that not all 99 percent of Americans whom the protesters reference share the protesters’ sartorial tastes. And they divert attention to the fact that the federal income tax code is somewhat progressive, while ignoring all the other taxes we do, and don’t, pay.
“They flatter themselves that, in contrast to the wealthiest 1 percent, they represent ‘the 99 percent.’ ” wrote Rich Lowry. “It might be true if the entire country consisted of stereotypically aging hippies and young kids who could have just left a Phish concert.” Jonah Goldberg concurred, “Their claims of representing the 99 percent are so preposterous, it’s sad and funny at the same time.”