Thursday, October 20, 2011


I'm back. First of all, thanks to everyone who posted while I was gone -- I hope I can remember how to do this as well as you've been doing it.

I had some trouble keeping up with the news, but I'm impressed by the widespread impact of Occupy Wall Street and the protests it's inspired -- and I'm a bit shocked by what's going on in the GOP presidential race. Regarding the demonstrators, regular readers know that I've thought in recent months that direct action was the thing that might shake American politics up, and I thought it was worth trying even if past demonstrations were ignored. Well, I'm going to pat myself on the back a bit and say I got that one more or less right. It's just a first step, and obviously (as so many people have said) it would be better if the demonstrators had a clear set of ideas and proposals. The New York Crank offered a pretty good list of proposals here yesterday, although I understand the difficulty of getting either demonstrators or ordinary Americans to pump their fists in favor of, say, restoration of Glass-Steagall. This is the hard part.

What I'd like to see is old-line, agenda-driven progressives and lefties learning from the new demonstrators and complementing their work with more traditional sorts of demonstrations that have well-thought-out agendas. I really hope what's been going on hasn't led old-school progressives to either turn up their noses at the newbies or say, "Fine, let them do this." Why merely wait for the new people to construct a message? People who've been thinking and talking and writing about these issues for a while should make their voices heard; why not a traditional big march with a thought-out agenda as well as the new-style protest? It doesn't have to be either/or. Ideas can come from several centers of energy, in several flavors. If everyone isn't exactly in sync, so what? Civil rights, feminism, the anti-war movement -- there were always variants on the main ideas. The point is that more people need to get angry and get energized.

Meanwhile, in the presidential race, I admit I was wrong (at least so far) about Rick Perry's staying power -- though the recent rise of Herman Cain suggests that I wasn't crazy to think that extremism is what GOP voters really want.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan resonates with these folks -- they may not understand taxes, but they know that federal income tax rates are always in the double digits and these are in the single digits. So the plan has to be good, right?

It's hard to imagine Cain going the distance -- he seems like this year's Huckabee, the underfinanced underdog, although with no deviations whatsoever from conservatively correct thinking (Huck liked squishy stuff such as music education). Still, I'm afraid he's tapping into something that also threatens the anti-Wall Street movement: the general sense in America that government is the real cultural sinkhole. I'm rooting for lefties to rally Middle America, but the right has at least a thirty-year head start on declaring who America's big villain is. Thus, I see that there was USA Today/Gallup poll a couple of days ago with this result:

When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy, 64% of Americans name the federal government and 30% say big financial institutions.

Also, appalling as the last David Brooks column was, he did quote this telling stat from the Heartland Monitor poll:

Some economists say the government should be spending more now to stimulate a recovery. Thirty-eight percent of Americans seem to agree with that. But 56 percent have said "government spending when the government is already running a deficit is the wrong approach during an economic downturn because it is only a temporary solution that increases long-term debt."

Americans just think there's massive government waste -- according to a September Gallup poll, they think 51 cents of every federal tax dollar is wasted. (That number hasn't dipped below 38 cents since 1979, when Gallup started asking the question.) So of course Herman Cain and other Republican candidates can propose government-starving tax plans with impunity. And of course it's hard to get Americans to focus on what Wall Street did to destroy the economy (with government's help, of course, or at least consent). But changing the right-wing narrative is a journey of a thousand miles, and I'm glad the first step has been taken.