Police forces across the nation have done a fine job of generating sympathy for the #Occupy movement. Although the protesters are right to be outraged at the treatment they’ve received by municipal authorities, one could argue that the heavy-handed attempts at repression by the police are the best thing that could have happened to the movement as a whole. When peacefully demonstrating civilians are attacked by police with pepper spray and billy clubs, it’s not hard to determine what the right side is.
There’s a difference, however, between supporting a person’s right to protest and supporting that person’s agenda. Like many people, I’ve been content to support the protesters in principle without committing to their (ill defined) political agenda. Now that the dust is starting to settle (and the #Occupy people have had enough time to be expected to put forth some coherent demands), I think it’s time to take a look at what the protesters actually want. One attempt to express an agenda has appeared in the form of a document put together by the Occupy Washington, D.C. group. Click the link if you want to read the whole thing; I’m just going to cover the major points and give my reactions to each.
1. Elimination of Corporate State.
This sounds like a good idea; I don’t think any reasonable individual would argue against the notion that big business and government have gotten a little too cozy of late. Apparently, though, the solution is to MAKE ALL PRIVATE CONTRIBUTIONS TO POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS ILLEGAL. You heard me right. OWDC wants an “immediate ban on all direct and indirect private contributions of any thing of value, to all politicians serving in or running for federal office in the United States. This ban shall extend to all individuals, corporations, “political action committees,” “super political action committees,” lobbyists, unions and all other private sources of money or things of value.” This rule would not only outlaw contributions by corporations, unions and political action committees; it would outlaw ALL POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS BY INDIVIDUALS AS WELL. In other words, if you write a $50 check to help an your nephew the aspiring congressman so he can print some fliers, you will go to jail. This is what people are demonstrating for?
Replacing private political contributions, by the way, will be a system of ”fair, equal and TOTAL public financing of all federal political campaigns.” In other words, candidates will be financed by the people who are in office now. Gee, I can’t see any conflict there.
Besides politicians who are in office now, the other people this rule would benefit are the mega-rich, like Donald Trump, who can finance a campaign without appealing to outside groups and individuals. In other words, this is a policy that any one percenter could wholeheartedly get behind.
2. Abrogation of the “Citizens United” Case.
Basically, they want a Constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court decision that corporate donations to political campaigns are protected speech. Given the fact that the vast majority of political donations go toward advertising (which is a form of speech), it seems to me that the Supreme Court made the right decision here. But I can see how a reasonable person would disagree, so I’m going to let this one slide.
3. Elimination of All Private Benefits and “Perks” to Public Servants.
Basically, they don’t think politicians should profit from corporations that they regulate. This is a good idea.
4. Term Limits.
“Members of the United States House of Representatives shall be limited to serving no more than four two-year terms in their lifetime. Members of the United States Senate shall be limited to serving no more than two six-year terms in their lifetime.”
This was a bad idea when it was touted by Newt Gingrich as part of the Contract with America in 1994, and it’s still a bad idea. Term limits would do exacty the opposite of what they are meant to do. They would limit the voters’ ability to vote for their preferred candidate, reduce accountability (by increasing the number of lame duck representatives), and make it that much harder for ordinary Americans to run for office. Running for office is already a high-risk endeavor that most Americans can’t afford; the prospect of likely unemployment after eight years would make a run for Congress out of the question for anyone but the one percenters.
5. A Fair Tax Code.
Basically this is about making corporations pay more taxes. The only problem is that the U.S. already has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world. This would be a good way to chase corporations (also known as “employers”) out of the country.
6. Healthcare for All.
“Medicare for all or adoption of a universal single-payer healthcare system. The broken Medicaid program will be eliminated as redundant. Affordable healthcare shall be a human right.”
Health care is not, and cannot be a “human right.” It may or may not be a good policy, but an individual cannot have a “right” that requires massive sacrifice from his or her fellow citizens. I’m not saying that universal health care is a bad idea; what I’m saying is that I have a fundamental philosophical disagreement with the idea of health care being a right.
7. Protection of the Planet.
“Human greed, exponentially magnified by corporations, is destroying the only habitable planet known to humanity.”
8. Debt Reduction.
This one isn’t even coherent. The authors don’t seem to understand the difference between the deficit (the difference between money going out and money coming in) and the debt (the total amount owed). And there’s a lot of nonsense in here about cutting spending for “inefficient healthcare, pharmaceutical exploitation,” etc. (Although who isn’t in favor of cutting funding for the National Pharmaceutical Exploitation Bureau?) The fact is, you can’t balance the budget without cutting social spending and/or entitlements.
9. Jobs for All Americans.
More ridiculous hyperbole.
10. Student Loan Forgiveness.
I could go along with some of this, but keep in mind that one way to discourage institutions from making future student loans is to forgive current loans.
11. Immigration Reform and Improved Border Security.
Interesting combination. I’m in favor of both, but where are you going to get the money for the latter?
12. Ending of Perpetual War for Profit.
So we’re going to only engage in unprofitable wars from now on?
13. Emergency Reform of Public Education.
Oh, good. We’re going to handle Public Education the way we handled Hurricane Katrina.
14. End outsourcing.
Again, a good way to chase corporations out of the country.
15. End Currency Manipulation.
As far as I can tell, they are trying to start a trade war with China. We will lose.
16. Banking and Securities Reform.
This mostly makes sense.
17. Foreclosure Moratorium.
18. Ending the Fed.
Interesting. A classic Libertarian position. Gotta wonder who sneaked this one in. Not sure where I stand on this one.
19. Abolish the Electoral College and Enact Uniform Election Reforms
Probably a good idea in principle, although there’s a bunch more blather in here about public financing of campaigns. Anyway, it’s not going to make much of a practical difference.
20. Ending the War in Afghanistand and Care of Veterans.
This one isn’t actually as heartless as it sounds. Turns out they are actually IN FAVOR of veterans’ care. I guess that’s OK.
21. Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”)
Not sure what this has to do with any of the other stuff, but whatever.
22. No Censorship of the Internet.
Good idea, but again, what’s the relevance? Also, it seems ironic to me that a group that wants to outlaw individual giving to political campaigns wants unrestricted free speech on the Internet. What happens if I buy a Facebook ad to support my political candidate of choice? Is that free speech or do I go to jail?
So here’s how I come down:
Points I wholeheartedly support: #3, #11, #16
Points I support in principle, but have some problems with details: #10, #17, #19, #20, #12
Points I support in principle, but that seem outside the scope of the 99%er cause: #21, #22
Points I have serious philosophical/practical problems with: #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #13, #14, #15, #18
Leaving out the items I consider irrelevant (#21 and #22), I’m somewhat or wholeheartedly in support of eight points and dead-set against twelve of them. I guess I’m not a ninety-nine percenter. Maybe I should look into this whole Tea Party thing.