Media pundits like the New York Times’ Bill Keller continue to fret about the Occupy Movement and their leaderless revolution.
I’m prepared to celebrate when the Occupiers — like the lone hunger artist of India — accomplish something more than organizing their own campsite cleanup, demonstrating their tolerance for tear gas, and distracting the conversation a little from the Tea Party. So far, the main achievement of Occupy Wall Street is showing up.
But to look at the words of the Republican leaders last week, I would say the Occupy Movement has already accomplished its main goal—raising national consciousness of economic inequality.
Income inequality, a cause of liberal economists and pundits, is working its way into the discourse of Republicans on Capitol Hill.
It’s a concept that the Occupy Wall Street movement has virtually owned and spread as its protests expand. Democrats have latched on, too, hammering Republicans for economic policies they say favor only the rich. And the Congressional Budget Office released a major report last week, showing that average household income for the top 1 percent of earners increased 275 percent from 1979 to 2007 while increasing just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of earners. So rather than ignore the disparity — and risk looking out of touch — Republicans are acknowledging income inequality. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is discussing it; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has talked about wealth disparity; and rank-and-file Republicans have started to lace the phrase into talks and interviews.
As soon as you have got Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan defending their support of the 1%, the main political dialogue has changed. There is no real way for Republicans to explain how the Reagan and Bush tax cuts for the fat cats have benefited the country as a whole. Here is an example of their lame defense strategy.
“Absolutely, there’s huge income inequality, and it started right here in Washington,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). “The way we fix that is getting the government out of the way of the private sector so we can put these people to work.”
Years ago, when Reagan first started cutting taxes for the rich, his advisors put forth the notion of “trickle down economics”, but the new CBO study shows that to be the Big Lie we always thought it was. And as Paul Krugmann points out this morning, there is nothing more hypocritical that Republicans railing against government spending.
Thus Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California, once attacked the Obama stimulus plan because “more spending is not what California or this country needs.” But two weeks ago, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McKeon — now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — warned that the defense cuts that are scheduled to take place if the supercommittee fails to agree would eliminate jobs and raise the unemployment rate.
The Occupy Movement took much of its inspiration from the Arab Spring revolutions, and now as winter approaches, I think they need to borrow another page from the Arab street—The Friday Protest March. Instead of trying to Occupy Wall Street with a small number of diehards, what is needed is a well organized large march at lunch time every Friday in each one of the main Occupy Cities. They would get all the press coverage and more importantly would widen their network over the coming months. The movement has already changed the national conversation as Ohio Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette acknowledges.
“In all [of] the messages that the president has tested this year, income inequality is probably the one that’s picking up the most steam, at least in my hometown, and so it’s something we’ve got to be aware of,” LaTourette said. “I don’t know if it’s something we need to talk about but … it’s something we need to be aware of.”
Now comes the hard part for the Occupy forces. Sustaining a movement for the next 12 months that will be based on economic justice and rebuilding America instead financing useless weapons of mass destruction.