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After “Occupy”, What Next?

Don Rose 31 October 2011 No Comment

“Occupy Wall Street” and its multiple spinoffs have already achieved a massive, worldwide victory by changing the nation’s dialog and debate from “deficits” to income inequality—to say nothing of refocusing public anger and blame onto the numerous abuses of the financial markets and their manipulators.

What the Occupiers may achieve next no one can be quite sure. Inclement weather may diminish the size of the various demonstrating groups, there may be a focal shift to police brutality or the fickle mass media may simply move on to something new and different, partially muting their ideas.

Barring excessive misbehavior by a minority—or the very real threat of provocateurs planted in their midst to try to discredit the movement itself—I would expect the groups to hang together, widen their appeal and perhaps begin to draft some realistic political goals and demands regardless of whether they morph into some form of organized electoral action, which is anathema to many of its present activists.

Thus far, however, amorphous and unfocused as they may seem, they have decidedly won the day and should have a long-term positive effect for Democratic politicians.

There is, however, the strong possibility that the deficit discussion will rear its head once again because of the work of and reporting on the so-called “super committee” aimed at creating a new “grand bargain” to bring the nation’s finances into balance.

The 12-member Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, six from each party, is supposed to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2-$1.5-trillion before the end of November. Not surprisingly, reports are that the committee is already deadlocked—Republicans, of course, refusing any tax increases or cuts in defense and Democrats resisting major cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

Apparently some Dems are ready to deal on Medicare, much to the consternation of the party’s base. But most likely all will be deadlocked, triggering automatic across-the-board cuts while Bush’s tax cuts run out for everyone.

It’s a sequel to the debt-ceiling movie—the grossest act of congressional dysfunction in generations.

But here’s the escape hatch: the cuts would not take place until 2013, giving Congress and the president plenty of time to make changes—perhaps averting the “automatic” cuts altogether.

There’s a special problem here for Democrats. If they go spineless again and agree to Medicare/Medicaid cuts, they will lose the most powerful re-election issue they have for 2012: the unanimous Republican House vote to destroy Medicare as we know it.

That issue has the potential force to win back the House and retain the Senate and the presidency. Dare they squander it by giving in?

Back to the Occupy forces: Will the media and public focus on the not-really-very-super committee obliterate their message? Will the regressive issue of deficit reduction reign again?

Or will the Occupiers exhibit the political smarts to develop demands that keep the focus where it should be—inequality—and, whether they like it or not, ultimately help the Democrats who often don’t show the smarts to help themselves?

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Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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