The Truth Smells

A Fox News commentator the other day said of the Occupy Wall Street protesters — “They smell.”

The New York Times on Saturday quoted a hedge-fund manager calling the protesters “a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Another bank exec was quoted: “It’s not a middle-class uprising. It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”

In the Sixties, protesters for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and an end to the Vietnam War were called all kinds of derogatory names. Communist was the most-common, all-purpose epithet. “Dirty hippie” was one I heard protesting in Florida against Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1968. Women’s Rights protesters were “dykes” or worse. Black protesters had the worst names, along with bricks and bottles and bullets, flung at them. All of us were bums, unAmerican, worthless.

So marginalizing the Other 99 Percent protesters by calling them unemployed smelly bums is an old trick of the status quosters. Demean them with language. They’re beneath you. Beneath contempt. They wouldn’t look right in the obscenely expensive Manhattan restaurants the Wall Street pirates frequent. They’re not our kind dear.

The wealthy have always looked down on the rabble. Built fortifications of contemptuous slurs to block out the unsophisticated words conveying the unvarnished truth.

As Ellen Mrja pointed out in the previous post, those most hurt by this rich-rigged economy aren’t just the kids. It’s all ages. And in a photo essay in today’s New York Times, five people or groups are shown. Of course this is no scientific survey, but it’s a slice of the protesters on Wall Street — one is a WWII vet, one a teacher, one a retired teacher, one a homeless young man, and one photo has no indication of employment. None of these people is a bum. None should be dismissed with foul names. All should be listened to. They are America.

In 1972, on Christmas Eve, my father joined my brother Michael and me at the Capitol in St. Paul to protest the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam. Michael and I had been against that endless war for years, and had protested some and argued a lot with our dad and mom at the dinner table. My dad, of the World War II generation, had trusted the government and supported the war. Until it wouldn’t end. When dad joined us in the snow, I wanted to call over the TV cameras and say “look, a vice president of General Mills, an adult, not a fuzzy kid. Can you dismiss him?”

Insult the protesters all you want, greedheads. It won’t make them go away. And it won’t make the truths they speak less true. Americans may finally be realizing who’s picking their pockets. And they’re pissed. If some are aromatic because they have the guts to camp out in the park for their beliefs and can’t get up to the showers in your private bathrooms in your lovely executive offices, well, General Washington’s troops at Valley Forge were pretty ripe too. So were the Freedom Riders. And the brave people in Tahrir Square.

God bless them every one.

BTW, hedgefundhog, remind me. What’s wrong with sex drugs & rock ‘n’ roll again?

— Bruce Benidt
(photo from

39 thoughts on “The Truth Smells

    1. Bruce Benidt says:

      PM, I’m relieved to know I won’t have to pay some recent bills if it’s cash-in time on Friday.
      BTW, have you read Tom Perrotta’s novel “The Leftovers”? It’s about what happens after the rapture. I don’t think the book is as good as its billing (front-page NYT Book Review review) but it’s a cool concept.
      One fascinating thing — in Perrotta’s novel, the Rapture takes, along with committed born-again Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, thieves, a ragtag bunch. And many many committed Christians who thought they’d rise into the clouds aren’t taken in the Rapture. The novel follows what happens among those left behind. The book’s cover is worth a look — great illustration.

  1. Newt says:


    The Austerity Myth: Federal Spending Up 5% This Year


    When Republicans took control of the House in January, they pledged to make deep cuts in federal spending, and in April they succeeded in getting a bill advertised as cutting $38 billion from fiscal 2011’s budget. Then in August, they pushed for a deal to cut another $2.4 trillion over the next decade.

    Some analysts have blamed these spending cuts for this year’s economic slowdown.

    But data released by the Treasury Department on Friday show that, so far, there hasn’t been any spending cuts at all.

    In fact, in the first nine months of this year, federal spending was $120 billion higher than in the same period in 2010, the data show. That’s an increase of almost 5%. And deficits during this time were $23.5 billion higher.

    1. PM. says:

      The cuts were designed to take effect later, not immediately.

      Don’t be such a doofus. Remember, apples are not oranges…..

      1. Bruce Benidt says:

        PM, watching these clips, I worry about you. You apparently “have the time to do this,” looking at all these clips to share with us, so you must be unemployed and therefore not a real person. A Democrat, in other words.
        The Scary Movie clip indicates you might need therapy.
        I’ll join you.
        Hang in there man.

  2. Gary Pettis says:

    Jeez Bruce, you covered a lot of ground in this post. Let me start by addressing your line: “BTW, hedgefundhog, remind me. What’s wrong with sex drugs & rock ‘n’ roll again?”

    It’s easy for me to remember when this catchy phrase became popular. In my high school junior year, I with a couple of friends stood with MSU ant-war protesters on the old bridge over the Minnesota river that joined Mankato and North Mankato. On one day back in 72′, the protesters occupied most of Mankato, blocking traffic and staging sit ins in government buildings.

    But a lot of stuff has happened since then.

    First, free love morphed into safe sex as the potential penalty for having consensual unprotected sex with multiple partners was death, thanks to the HIV virus and the AIDS epidemic.

    Second, the distribution channel for drugs has radically changed compared to the days when folks relied on their local, trustworthy neighborhood dealer. These days, there is a lot of uncertainty about what might be cut or laced into everyday street drugs. Then there is the new line of synthetic drugs, currently legal to buy but extremely dangerous to take. Plus, abuse of pharmaceutical drugs has wrecked many peoples lives in the pursuit of a high, social bonding and/or reality escape. Drugs: Buyer beware because a life may depend on the right or wrong choice.

    Finally, rock ‘n’ roll. Back during the late 60’s and early 70’s, big rock bands were antiestablishment, anti-capitalism and anti-corporation. These days, bands that are established or have hopes of making it big wouldn’t think twice about taking on a nice corporate sponsorship (show me the money!) from, let’s say, an auto maker, a big brand beer or even a national bank or financial services company.

    Many of the bands/artists that are around today that were selling albums during our much younger days, such as KISS, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, etc., represent big companies now that have business operations, pay payroll, offer benefits and invest for the future. They hire employees, lay them off and have probably fired a few.

    Let’s hope they too are willing to share the wealth with the 99 percent beyond charitable giving and acts of philanthropy.

    And speaking of hypocrisy, many community, state and national banks have funded and supported many of the liberal arts, including musical performances and concerts, artist programs and exhibits, and yes, the works of writers.

    Here’s the sweetest link I could find on this topic:

    1. Bruce Benidt says:

      Gary, great stuff!

      I have a friend who used to work in the U of M’s School of Public Health. They studied fat content of fast foods and what the sugar in soft drinks does to people. She had a rack of test tubes in her office — showing the amount of fat (congealed, yuk, in the tubes) in a Big Mac and a Whopper and an order of fries. The school’s unofficial motto — “Where fun comes to die.” Your SD&R&R analysis reminds me of this.

      I get your point on philanthropy that banks and rich folks do. It’s crucial to a healthy community. (So is every small contribution from less-well-off individuals, middle-class folks who give a hundred bucks to the YMCA or breast cancer research with no need to see their name publicized.) Being in the PR business, I understand the reputation-building value of publicizing an organization’s philanthropy. I also know of a company owner in Minneapolis who, yes, puts his company’s name on buildings he funds at educational and cultural institutions, but who also gives a great deal of money to scholarships and other causes anonymously. What’s the saying — “It’s what you do when no one’s looking that is the measure of your character”?

      Here in Tampa, the media and business community loved George Steinbrenner, who gave lots of money to hospitals and local causes. He was a felon, and, as I’ve written on this blog before, his “win at all costs” attitude was reprehensible. But he bought respectability.

      What would happen if we in PR didn’t publicize a company’s good works. Would the philanthropy continue?

      If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody issues a press release, would it still fall?

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    — Mahatma Gandhi

  4. Like Ani Difranco says in Coming Up:

    but I love this city, this state
    this country is too large
    and whoever’s in charge up there
    had better take the elevator down
    and put more than change in our cup
    or else we
    are coming

  5. Newt says:

    Everyone gather ’round the campfire and sing to the chorus “Fuck the USA” at Occupy Portland …

    I’m sorry Bruce. Your protesters need a bath, a job, and an education.

  6. PM. says:


    I know that you are concerned about cutting spending–here is an issue where i think the spending definitely needs to be cut–agricultural subsidies. By and large, the ag sector of the economy is doing great. But Congress (both dems and Repubs) are loathe to cut these subsidies: see:

    Do you think that any presidential candidate getting ready to face the Iowa caucuses might be prepared to advocate cutting corn subsidies?

  7. Sorry this is so late – I’m a very slow reader. And there were no sex, drugs or rock n’ roll at the Capitol vigil that night. Darn.

    Here’s a link to “Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance.”

    About sums it up.

    #11 is “Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.”

    1. Erik says:

      Yes, well… with the hindsight of some weeks it does not seem it was that wise a decision for the various liberal bourgeoizees to have contracted “Occupy” out to the lumpen. You also get the sense there’s a distinct collective action paradox at work here.

      1. Erik says:

        Now, we have been well advised that it’s not OK to marginalize the Occupiers merely because they smell. But that has been taken a step further, now with the movement apparently co-opted by public defecators. Does that change things? Is it fair now to point out that the lumpen Occupiers are smelly, unemployable slobs, misanthropes, and malcontents?

      2. PM. says:

        Except that now some republicans are getting on the bandwagon as well.

        Did you see Tom Coburn’s report, noting that the 1% is hugely subsidized by the federal government, receiving over $30 billion in federal subsidies of various sorts?

        “His staff found that millionaires received $74 million worth of unemployment checks from 2005 to 2009; $316 million in farm subsidies from 2003 to 2009; $89 million for the preservation of lands on ranches and estates in 2009 and 2010; and $7.5 million to compensate for property damages caused by disaster.

        And it found that nearly 1,500 millionaires did not pay federal income tax in 2009.

        In 2009, 18 people earning more than $10 million a year received an average of $12,000 in unemployment benefits. That same year, 74 people earning between $5 million and $10 million received $18,000 in benefits, on average, according to the report. In 2008, 2,840 millionaires received unemployment benefits — an average of $6,500 per beneficiary.”

      3. PM. says:

        Erik and newt: your arguments here have nothing to do with the questions on the table (is there a problem with inequality in the US?) and everything to do with the character of the protestors. What you are doing here is making an ad hominem attack–a fallacious argument.

        Are you really ceding the substance of the inequality debate?

      4. Erik says:

        I have no sense they are making a cogent point about income inequality.

        Nor was I kidding about a collective action problem. As a movement, it’s currently farmed out to various crews of lumpen dipshits. I’ll believe it’s important when respectable liberals like you join the front lines of the protest rather than merely “supporting OWS” comfortably from afar. That sentiment is a very cheap indulgence.

      5. PM. says:

        Well, I appreciate being called respectable, although i don’t really consider myself a liberal….

        still, I do think that there is a cogent argument being made about the dramatically increasing levels of income inequality in this country. I think that this concern is driving a populist upswelling, that can be seen on both the right and the left (but mostly on the left). Many of the specific demands are self contradictory, jumbled, etc., but that does not mean that there is not a common thread to them.

        Many politicians are paying a lot of attention to this, because it offers them an opportunity to win elections. I think even Sarah Palin’s recent WSJ column ( )
        is an example of this concern–that people are getting ahead by gaming the system, and leaving the rest of us behind. The OWS point to bankers and Wall Street, Sarah Palin points to Congress. The sentiment is the same.

        I do think that there should be genuine concern about this issue. i think that it really eats away at the perceived legitimacy of our institutions. I think that it is an issue that cuts across both conservatives and liberals, republicans, democrats and independents. I don not trust people llike Sarah palin or the Tea Party or the OWS protestors to get it right–to accurately analyse the problem, much less to come up with a solution. But if other people will not engage with the problem of inequality (and no, it does not require attending OWS rallies to engage with it), then they (the demagogues of left and right) will deal with this issue by default. And i do not think that would be a good thing.

      6. Erik says:

        Still respectable, but substitute conventional or institutional if you wish.

        The OWS people are reliably caricatured. They are underemployed. They want an adult income, but not an adult job. They are holding out for their dream position in the non-profit sector or the virtuocracy because they would never sully themselves working in the business world. Or they might be too misanthropic for even government work. They are the lumpen left, and are ne’er do well Marxists. They are not Democrats. OWS is in fact a nascent Marxist revolution. That’s what it is, and that’s what they want it to be.

        Yes there are fair critiques of inequality around. The OWS people make a poor case though, and its awkward for say 50 to 70 year old liberal Democrats who have prospered in the various patronage systems and rent schemes to be projecting their values onto OWS. It’s got a false feel.

  8. PM. says:

    If it makes you feel good to engage in caricatures, go for it. But that is not a good reason to shy from engaging in the actual issue, and trying to come up with an appropriate way to address this important issue. The fact that you can caricature a group does not mean that you can (or should) comfortably go back to sticking your head in the sand.

    Why are you so reluctant to engage in the issue of the increasing inequality in this country? Do you not think this is an important issue? Do you think that republicans can afford to continue to ignore it?

    1. Erik says:

      It’s a bogus issue. If it was a real issue the espoused solution would not be a return to Clinton tax rates. As such, concern over income inequality is a cheap indulgence for which those aforementioned prosperous liberals are able to buy steps for their metaphorical stairway to heaven.

  9. PM. says:


    You can’t dismiss an issue just because you do not like one of the proposed solutions to it. There are plenty of people who think that it is a legitimate issue who are not proposing a return to Clinton era tax rates as a means of addressing this. Maybe you don;t think this is a legitimate or important issue, but i find it difficult to imagine that your reason is simply that you do not like one of the many (widely disparate) solutions that has been proposed.

    Regardless, current law (as passed by W.) means that the bush tax cuts are only temporary. Without Republicans being willing to cut some sort of a deal, taxes will rise to the previous Clinton era levels, and our deficit problem will disappear. I am not certain that that particular change in tax rates will really make much of a difference in terms of the income inequality issue, as the beginning of that problem really predates the Clinton era.

    1. Erik says:

      Who are those plenty of people and what is their solution.

      To the extent that the Clinton rates would mitigate the deficit, it ain’t because rates on the rich go up. It is for instance because I lose my $1k each income tax credit on my 10 and 7 year old.

      You acknowledge the issue is presented with fake symptoms and fake solutions, but conservatives are asked to take it seriously? I think you can understand my objections. Its a stalking horse / wedge issue / cheap indulgence.

  10. Erik says:

    Uh huh. This laying down of links like they are the ace of apades is not compelling PM.

    It’s worth saying additionally, that for every $10M / yr securities trader or CEO there are probably a thousand $500k physicians, accountants, law firm partners, heads of professional service shops, small / mid company CEO’s, corporate operational directors, FARMERS…..

    If anything I am understating their numerical superiority. These people exist in such vast numbers as to make those with actual multi-million dollar incomes statistically insignificant. And in either case, their high income is not money that otherwise would have been in someone else’s pocket.

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