Strange to say, but there may be something valuable going on among some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Until now, two narratives have defined both the press coverage and public discussion of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators camped out in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park.
The first depicts a collection of buffoonish, semiliterate juveniles engaged in a seeming left-wing version of a college prank. There is, to be sure, something to this story.
In last week's Zombie Parade the protesters, giddy with their cleverness, portrayed themselves as the living dead whose lives had been sucked from them by unnamed corporations.
One of the pre-Halloween costumers was asked why she had chosen to dress up like a zombie who looked like Marie Antoinette, the French queen guillotined by the revolutionaries of 1793. She replied that she had no idea of who Marie Antoinette was but just liked the look of the costume.
The second narrative sees the protesters as ripe to be harnessed by the labor leaders who hope to tap into their energy on behalf of the Obama 2012 campaign.
Watching New York Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew prance about, speaking in the name of the protest, you might think Occupy Wall Street had signed on to a campaign to raise teachers' salaries in a city whose budget shortfalls are already producing layoffs.
But both of these explanations presume that there is a single, largely unified group of people in Zuccotti Park. There isn't. The exhibitionists, lost souls and zanies acting out tend to congregate in the Western stretch of the block-long park.
To their east, where anti-Obama placards outnumber those supporting the president, a more cerebral group of protesters is gathered. Their organizational skills have kept the encampment running in reasonably good order for these past three weeks.
Some of them, carrying anti-Obama placards, are standard issue leftists who, like the New York Times editorial board, think that the president's problem is that he has been too moderate and thoughtful.
But others are caught up in the practical details of self-government on a small scale. They are doing their best not to be co-opted, which is why, despite the hoopla from labor leaders, they haven't signed on to the union campaign. Like Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s, they are grappling with a paradox.
On the one hand, they insist that corporations ineffectively run the government; on the other, they want more government regulation to control the corporations.
By contrast, the Tea Party has a ready and plausible answer as to how to restore self-government and break the grip of the crony capitalism that ties the Obama administration to Wall Street. They want to drastically reduce the size of government.
The protesters have no such view. Like their 1960s predecessors, they're chasing their tails trying to imagine procedural reforms that will allow the demonstrators to govern themselves, while also curbing the power of those greedy capitalists.
It's too easy to dismiss the protesters, with their "Eat The Rich" signs, as just spoiled "trustafarian" misfits. They see themselves as the American equivalents of Egypt's Tahrir Square protesters who brought down President Hosni Mubarak, but they haven't noticed that it's the Islamists who are inheriting the Arab Spring.
Mocking them is easy; but here at home, the problem of crony capitalism is in fact eating away at our civic entrails. Leftists willing to grapple with this malignancy should be welcomed, if only for the potential seriousness of their efforts.
As the more thoughtful 68ers eventually discovered, the idea of reforming government by expanding it is a circular dead end.
This piece originally appeared at The Washington Examiner.
Fred Siegel is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and scholar in residence at St Francis College in Brooklyn.