September 17 marks the second anniversary of the Occupy movement. When that movement is mentioned at all in Washington, which is rarely, the tone is dismissive. It didn't have coherent goals, someone will say. It needed an electoral strategy, somebody else will add. No wonder it didn't last.
That's getting it backwards. The Occupy movement wasn't the foundation for change, it was the reflection of a deeper desire for it. It was the effect, not the cause, and it won't disappear because of wishful thinking.
Occupy was the product of a deep-seated yearning for economic justice, equality of opportunity, and a return to the kind of economy that lifted people out of poverty and spawned a large and prosperous middle class. It was the fruit of widespread and intense anger at Wall Street and Corporate America, and against those in the political class who helped them hijack the economy. Those sentiments are very much alive in the American political process.
If you don't believe that, just ask Larry Summers.
The (real) revolution is not a Tea Party.
It's not surprising that Republicans don't understand. The Tea Party was their well-funded project to channel populist anger, and it led to the clueless spectacle of information-starved Americans marching to eliminate their own Social Security and Medicare. But the Tea Party has become a Frankenstein's monster that threatens its creators in the GOP establishment.
The Republicans' mistake was spiritual and moral. They chose to channel public rage, and only rage, without reaching out to people's idealism as well. They acted out of self-interest and therefore, perhaps inevitably, triggered only selfish instincts. Now they can't control the anger they've spawned.
As the old, supposedly Chinese adage goes: He who rides the tiger cannot dismount. The GOP is stuck with its Tea Party, making it all but impossible for them to govern -- even on behalf of its wealthy paymasters.
(Not) dancing with the ones who brought them
The White House, on the other hand, should've known better. It, and the party which it leads, were stuck in the polling doldrums before Occupy came along. The President and party leaders were trying to sell the economic foolishness of Simpson-Bowles austerity and the polling-booth poison of Social Security cuts until Occupy came along. The excitement spawned by the movement, along with the new economic vocabulary it generated, gave them a new direction and new momentum.
They were smart enough to seize it all -- the moment, the movement, and the language. They rode that wave of economic populism into electoral victory, recapturing the White House and the Senate and winning 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives than Republicans did. (The Republicans kept the House anyway, thanks to gerrymandering.)
But the administration drifted after the election, diluting the message of economic populism and failing to deliver either bold economic proposals or aggressive enforcement against criminal Wall Street banks.
Then, in a gesture of stunning tone-deafness, the White House began floating the idea of nominating Summers to head the Federal Reserve. That sent exactly the wrong message to the American people, and to the Democratic base in particular.
The trouble with Larry
Summers symbolized the wrongheaded thinking, indifference to public suffering, and greedy revolving-door cynicism of the triangulating and economically right-leaning Clinton Democrats. He was almost a caricature of the government bureaucrat as self-centered insider. And he was a leader in the fight to implement the failed notions of deregulation and bank consolidation which led to the financial crisis of 2008.