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Government Ineptness Underlies Occupy Movement

This is the second in a series of blogs I’ll post on Fridays from now until election day to address critical issues facing our country. My blog last week dealt with the issue of who is to blame for class warfare (Blame Corporate America and Wall Street for “Class Warfare.”). This week I look at the role of our political system and how it creates distrust of our government.

Critics of the “Occupy Wall Street (OWS)” movement rail against what they perceive to be obnoxious protesters looking for a place to vent, and even sleep and eat. Critics charge there is a segment of the protesters who want to tear down capitalism and our government. They miss the point that the underlying goal is to reform capitalism so that it works for all in society and not a chosen few who tend to act in their selfish interests without regard to the consequences of their actions on the public.

There is a meaningful analogy to be made between the protesters in the Vietnam War and those in OWS. Many in the public criticized Vietnam protesters as unkempt, loud, a nuisance, and generally wanting nothing more than to tear down our government. Sound familiar?  Today we look at those protesters in a much different light as ushering in a period of peace and ending an unjustified and, perhaps, unwinnable war. I’ve taken the title of this blog from one of the slogans chanted during the Vietnam War protests – “America, change it or lose it.” The chant was in reaction to anti-protesters whose slogan, “America, love it or leave it,” articulated the view that those who don’t like what America is doing should leave the country.

Much of the criticisms lodged against OWS protesters have the same underlying theme. The anti-protesters are trying to minimize the valid and well-meaning message that corporate greed and government ineptness is to blame for the harm that has befallen so many in society. Millions have lost their jobs not because they no longer can do the job or don’t want to work, as the OWS opposition would have us believe. Let’s not forget that it was financial institutions and investment banks that brought down our financial system thereby leading to massive layoffs. The government through Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC, both of which engaged in accounting fraud, created a bubble in the housing industry that burst and caused the loss of millions in home value. The combined efforts of the perpetrators of the financial disaster that began in 2008 led to the destruction of a massive amount of stock market wealth for the average citizen whose IRAs and 401Ks plummeted in value.

In a poll taken between October 19 and 24 by Real Clear Politics, only nine percent of the public approves of the job Congress is doing, a 75 percent drop in support since the last poll. How could Congress not expect the public to protest with these numbers? I’d be surprised if there were no protests as it would indicate a complacency in society that is not healthy to our tradition of speaking out about wrongdoing. Moreover, compare these results to an Association Press-Gallup Poll that 37 percent support the Wall Street protesters and 58% say they are furious about America’s politics.

Protesters against the Vietnam War changed the public’s opinion about it just as the protesters in New York City and other places will change the public’s position on the rightness of their cause. However, it behooves the protesters to get better organized; keep in check those who are there for their own agenda; and control troublemakers that always latch on to any protest movement.

The legitimacy of the Vietnam protesters who were branded hippies was enhanced when the group Students for a Democratic Society came along and organized into a political force. SDS developed a political manifesto that suggested a series of reforms, some of which are relevant to today’s protesters: it proclaimed a need to reshape the political parties to attain greater representation, for stronger power for individuals through citizen's lobbies, for more substantial involvement by workers in business management, and nonviolent civil disobedience as the means by which student youth could bring forth a "participatory democracy." This was a unifying message. OWS protesters also must develop a unifying message to be successful in the long run.

The support for the anti-war movement was low at first but grew as the war wore on and more and more Americans questioned the values of their government, much as do OWS protesters. Support for the war went from a high of 52 percent in August 1965 to a low of 28 percent in May 1971.

A Fox-News poll taken the week of October 24 indicates that 76 percent of Americans are not satisfied with the direction our country is headed. This is a serious matter. How can Republicans and other critics dismiss the protest movement in light of the lack of support in the public for the political process and results? The unemployment rate has been over nine percent for about thirty months with no decrease in sight. Programs to alleviate the pain have not worked. None of the Wall Street fat cats were charged with any crimes for their role in the financial meltdown. The government is stalemated and we can’t move forward. Some say it will change after the election. I doubt it as our recent past indicates that political posturing by the party not in power will begin the day after we elect a new President. Politicians are more concerned with the ends – get re-elected; get control of Congress; and change the party of the President – than the means used to achieve those ends. This is an unethical approach to decision-making because it ignores how the public may be harmed by the political games played to achieve a goal.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 28, 2011