Friday, October 7, 2011

Cheering for Occupy Wall Street

Paul Krugman on Occupy Wall Street:

. . . It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

Rich Yeselson, a veteran organizer and historian of social movements, has suggested that debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests. I’ll second that, because such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover. I’d suggest that protesters also demand infrastructure investment — not more tax cuts — to help create jobs. Neither proposal is going to become law in the current political climate, but the whole point of the protests is to change that political climate.

And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.

Paul Krugman, "Confronting the Malefactors," New York Times, 7 October 2011.

What's on your list? The media may be concerned that Occupy Wall Street has no obvious leader or spokesperson, and that it has no coherent message, all of which make it hard for the news to create a story. But see Tod Gitlin's The Whole World Is Watching, in which he tells how SDS foundered on its interaction with the media's hunger for stars.'

A variety of writers on the left are offering lists of suggested objectives for the Occupy Wall Street movement to support -- that in itself is an accomplishment, as it has reached the level of visibility and energy that good thinkers are being drawn to offer shaping messages. Something like this happens in the run-up to an important Presidential speech -- op-ed writers offer hypothetical drafts. If the movement has already reached a point where concerned citizens can project longings in its direction, that's something. Not the whole story, and not enough, but something interesting from a rhetorical perspective.

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