First, I want to apologize for not having posted in quite some time. When the debt ceiling deal went through, I went through a period where just thinking about politics made me feel somewhat ill. I've gotten past that, though, and am happy to be back.
Getting past that, the two biggest pieces of news in the Republican presidential campaign over the past couple of weeks have been the rise of Herman Cain, which I think is a boring story of the moment, and Occupy Wall Street, which I find much more interesting. I think pretty much every Republican candidate for president has discussed Occupy Wall Street over the past week, including our good friend Rick Santorum (who was surprisingly one of the most understanding towards Occupy Wall Street, although he of course disagreed with their pro-government intervention viewpoint.)
I must say that I'm a bit torn by Occupy Wall Street, and find that most people who are covering the event, no matter how much they support it, are. In particular, the media on the left tend to be torn about whether this is a liberal Tea Party or not. When conservatives denounce Occupy Wall Street, liberals call them hypocrites because there isn't that much difference between what the Tea Party has done and what Occupy Wall Street is doing. However, when moderates and conservatives say Occupy Wall Street is like the Tea Party, a lot of us on the left try and say how Occupy Wall Street is more or different.
I see too many similarities between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to not see them as two sides of the same coin. This is not meant as a put down of Occupy Wall Street. Like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street has taken people who feel disaffected and giving them a voice. For the biggest dissimilarity between the two groups, the individuals at Occupy Wall Street actually are the people who have been most hurt by the economic downturn of 2008: college graduates who have entered the job market to find no jobs, laid off individuals who have found it impossible to find new jobs, people who have had their homes foreclosed upon because their homes lost half their value in the last five years, and union members. That is a significant difference, especially in the morality behind the message. But there is another similarity that is stronger to me: both groups have very broad, somewhat muddled messages.
The Tea Party is well known for making broad pronunciations of limited government and strict constitutional construction, without describing what that means or turning that into specific policy proposals aside from calling for no taxes or repealing the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, the only message that Occupy Wall Street has sent out about their goals was a very broad, nonspecific list that was essentially a rundown of far left goals. Indeed, Keith Olbermann, whom I typically enjoy, touted how nonspecific Occupy Wall Street's list was as a strength because it showed how irretrievably broken the American economy is.
And that's where Occupy Wall Street shares a major flaw with the Tea Party. It is actually pretty easy to get a bunch of people who are mad and feeling disenfranchised together to complain about what's wrong. It's a lot harder to come to a consensus about specific policies to take to improve matters. That takes hard work. If Occupy Wall Street wants to be taken more seriously, they need a specific set of policy initiatives they support. And those initiatives have to be realistic. Getting to those initiatives might be difficult. But it's necessary.
If I was active in Occupy Wall Street leadership, I'd suggest naming 5 specific pieces of legislation we wanted enacted at the federal level. Personally, my five would be: (1) return of federal income tax rates on the top two tax brackets to Clinton-era levels; (2) the abolition of the lower tax rate for capital gains taxes; (3) elimination of subsidies for oil production in its entirety and agricultural enterprises that have over a certain amount of revenue; (4) $1 trillion over the next ten years that goes directly to much needed infrastructure improvements; and (5) the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. If I was adding a sixth wish list item that would require a Constitutional Amendment, it would be support of a Constitutional Amendment that explicitly states that a corporation is not a person and, which would eliminated Citizens United.
I know a lot of people like Occupy Wall Street the way it is right now. There are a lot of things I like about it as well. But I think doing the hard work to come to consensus to make proposals for beneficial and realistic legislation will both make Occupy Wall Street more effective and relevant far into the future.