So far, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have only managed to sound sorry for themselves.
Their cry that the rich are too rich resonates with some Americans, but without a proposal to correct the "problem," the protesters are just a grumpy group of squatters.
Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Stockton and hundreds of Occupy Someplace demonstrations are a big yawn compared the Hoovervilles of the '30s and anti-war protests in the '60s.
There's been some violence surrounding a few of them, but given the long history of violent crime in places like Manhattan and Oakland, it's probably not fair to blame the protesters.
The difference between earlier protests and the Occupy movement is that today's demonstrations don't seem to stand for much. The Depression protesters created political support for Social Security and welfare programs. The Vietnam protesters shortened the war and set up a Communist takeover in South Vietnam.
It's hard to know what the Occupiers want to change. Here are a few ideas today's demonstrators might get behind:
- Better financial regulation could prevent another destructive orgy of mortgage lending.
- Aggressive anti-trust enforcement that might shrink some big banks that are "too big too fail." This could save taxpayers bailout money.
- A shout-out, defending the progressive income tax (whereby people with higher incomes pay a higher percentage tax), would be a demand to keep upper income people paying a the biggest share of welfare, the large military, farm subsidies, etc. That might, or might not, take the wind out of the sails of candidates like Herman Cain, who wants a flat 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent federal sales tax on top of the state sales tax.
- A greater voice for pension funds and small stockholders in setting salaries might reduce the stupendous compensation of corporate CEOs. (It would probably do little for increasing workers' wages and health benefits, however).
Some of these ideas are pretty liberal. Some might earn wide support.
Would any of these overcome the devilish details of adoption or the opposition of conservative voters and corporate lobbyists?
Would any of these reforms make a better America?
Unless the protesters give us something to think about, most Americans won't even hear what they have to say.
And unless the Occupiers come up with a message, they will just be squatters in urban parks wallowing in self-pity, and history's footnotes.