Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Demands of the 99%

Last night Keith Olbermann read a very articulate and comprehensive list of demands issued by the Occupy Wall Street group. It might be better to characterize them as a list of charges demanding redress or correction. A list of grievances. Naomi Klein addressed the protesters; her important speech is published in The Nation. Krugman wrote this morning that this is a watershed moment. We must seize it.

These individuals, working people, students, people who used to work until they were outsourced or downsized, teachers, nurses, engineers, communications workers, ministers, janitors, firefighters, neighbors, friends, are not radical. They are in a very important sense true conservatives. They are for restoring the rules and the rights and the public institutions that functioned well during the best half century of American history, the years following the New Deal. These rules and rights were honored and preserved by FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, even Nixon. But since the Reagan years these rights and rules have been systematically eroded or taken from citizens and given to corporations and corporations have been allowed to evade their obligations as members and leaders of our society. The corporation isn't a dangerous thing except when it works against the society and the people in it. Often corporations have been a strong progressive force in our lives, advancing civil rights, retirement security and other benefits, but without limits and reasonable regulation by the people and their democratic government corporations can be a dangerous thing.

The founders knew this. Contrary to what false conservatives say on television, the founders had concerns about the concentration of wealth. James Madison had this to say:

“[T]he day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of few. A Republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when the day comes...we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions.”

The founders' beliefs and ideas resemble not only what is being expressed by the protesters on Wall Street but the ideas put forward by the president and the Democrats and shut down by the Republicans in Congress. Reasonable limits on corporate power is not a radical idea. Progressive taxation didn't make Eisenhower a communist. President Washington formed an army to go after tax evaders. Hamilton created the national debt not as a burden but to enable the American economy to grow and prosper. The Republicans in Congress and their wealthy and powerful allies on Wall Street need to be subject to reasonable restrictions and levels of taxation. It is the working and middle classes who need protection and help.

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