Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hendrik Hertzberg on Occupy Wall Street

Hendrik Hertzberg (The New Yorker):
Either way, Occupy Wall Street—O.W.S.? No, let’s just call it OWES, in honor of its sympathy for tapped-out debtors over bailed-out creditors—is hardly a revolution. It is a dinner party of sorts, albeit one with donated, often organic food served on paper plates. There’s tea, too, of course, mostly herbal—rooibos and camomile, though, not that other herb. (The distinctive aroma that the “straight press” of yore invariably called “the sweet smell of marijuana” is noticeably absent.) But, whatever OWES is, what will it become? Where is it headed? Will it dazzle or fizzle? Will it catch fire or backfire? Will it end up helping the Democrats or the Republicans? In short, what’s the meaning of it all? So far, the best answer is the one that Zhou Enlai, the Great Helmsman’s great henchman, supposedly gave when President Nixon supposedly asked him to assess the impact of the French Revolution: it’s too early to tell. At the moment, all that can be said with certainty—even if Mayor Bloomberg disagrees—is that OWES has become one of the city’s most interesting bargain tourist destinations.
Anyway, OWES is not the Brookings Institution. But its implicit grievances are plain enough: the mass pain of mass unemployment, underemployment, and economic insecurity; the corrupting, pervasive political influence of big money; the outrageous, rapidly growing inequality of wealth and income; the impunity of the financial-industry scammers whose greed and fraud precipitated the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a broken political system hobbled by a Republican right willing and usually able to block any measures, however timid and partial, that might relieve the suffering. If Occupy Wall Street can continue to behave with nonviolent restraint, if it can avoid hijack by a flaky fringe, if it can shake the center-left out of its funk, if it can embolden Democratic politicians (very much including President Obama, who, lately and belatedly, has begun to show signs of fight), then preoccupied Main Street will truly owe OWES. Big ifs all. It’s too early to tell, but not too late to hope. MORE...

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