Occupy and Tea Party Movements – What Can We Learn?

As I read through the press coverage and watch legitimate news around the GOP primary coverage, I am at a loss at the absence of discourse around the key issues of the day. Even when the President enters into the debate, he is silent on some issues of import, even when he has a better story to tell in several areas. The Occupy and Tea Party movements are by no means perfect, but what I do applaud is their raising of issues that beg to be discussed and are being avoided by GOP candidates and the President. I would add that parts of the Tea Party are adding several seasonings to a key message that make it very unpalatable, but there are key elements of what it is being said that needs to be heard.

The United States has several issues and is no longer the “shining light on the hill” we once were. By far, we have the greatest form of governance ever conceived, when it is allowed to function well. As history has shown, our governance model is usually compromised by its incumbents and rabid political partisanship. I worry greatly when rabid politicians say they want to change the model. The checks and balances are there for a reason.

We have been eager to let short-term decision-making get in the way of long-range planning. Our electorate does not have the patience for decisions that will take time. And, the rabid political parties are too eager to cry foul or blame before things run their course. So, sometimes, even well conceived decisions are not given enough time. Finally, the money that is needed to get elected exacerbates an age-old problem of influence buying benefactors who tend to promote versions of the truth or outright falsehoods on a given topic. So, it takes some earnest effort to uncover the real causes of problems and solutions. This is difficult in that there are seldom black and white answers to problems.

The two movements are focusing on some major issues of our country and we are not openly discussing them. Yet, the problems exist. The Occupy Movement correctly points out these major issues:

  • About 50 million Americans live in poverty in the US – that is about 1/6 of our population; a greater number are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • About 50 million Americans, before the full implementation of “ObamaCare,” as the GOP calls it, do not have or cannot afford health insurance.
  • The economic disparity in this country is atrocious. Wages and wealth for the top 20% have grown at a measurable rate, while wages and wealth for the rest of America have been relatively stagnant over the past 30 years.

The Tea Party Movement correctly notes that we have to get control over our deficits. We have been sliding down a slippery slope dating back to when Bill Clinton left office, the last period when we had a balanced annual budget (we were still in debt mind you). We not only have to balance the budget, we need to have some surplus to pay down the debt.

And, let’s layer on to both of these movements, the other vital issues of the day – job creation, investing in education that will lead us forward and intelligent energy/ environmental policy that will address Global Warming – please keep telling the GOPers it is occurring.

I encourage people to read the book “Nickel and Dimed – On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author did first hand research by working near-minimum wage jobs in America – usually several at a time – to see what it was like. The book is very telling  in that she discovered very hard-working people trying to make ends meet. What she found is in conflict with the American dream. There is a significant part of our society who can work as hard as they can, but they can never escape poverty. The near-minimum wage environment is the closest thing to slave labor as we can get. For every Herman Cain who through hard work and opportunity climbed out of poverty, there are thousands of people who cannot. They cannot afford health care, they must eat cheaper unhealthy meals when they do eat and they cannot save for a rainy day. As we speak, most retail employers cover only 1/3 of the workforce with health care insurance. The other 2/3 or more cannot afford it. So, these are not lazy people who have needs. They tend to be hard-working folks looking for a fair deal.

On the flip side, we as a country have been living beyond our means. When people lose a job or there is income reduction in a family, they do what is necessary to cut expenses. Our country has not done that. We have to tell everyone we have a problem and we all need to do our part. We have to have constructive conversation around actions needed. The Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Plan was an example of this. The President and Congress need to embrace all of the elements and tell the country why parts of it don’t make sense. That includes the revenue increase part, as well. This is the area where I vehemently disagree with the Tea Party and Grover Norquist influenced GOP crowd. We must simplify the tax structure, but increase the overall amount of taxes collected.

This last point is not new. Many smart people cried foul when the Bush tax cuts first went into play. Between the tax cuts and the extended wars, we went from a balanced budget when Clinton left office to what we have today.  We have to cut expenses and raise revenue as ordered by the Bowles-Simpson Plan. The math will not work otherwise. And, if you look at the non-partisan budget office projections, Gingrich, Santorum and Romney’s plans all would measurably increase the deficit. Only Pauls’ would decrease it, but his cuts may cause too much bleeding. Nonetheless, at least Paul has an understanding of the issue. And, let’s be reminded that Ronald  Reagan increased taxes five times after he cut too much in his Tax Simplification Plan. Grover Norquist will not let you believe this.

I fully realize some of the Occupy Movement’s issues are in conflict with that of the Tea Party Movement. That is why this is so hard and needs thoughtful discussion. I have always tended away from the Libertarian “you are on your own” philosophy. I like elements of what Paul has to say, but I believe a society’s greatness is judged by how it takes care of the less fortunate. Otherwise, we will all live in Potterville instead of Bedford Falls.

In an earlier post, I noted my state of the union recommendations gleaned from smarter people than me. The President has done many good things, but what he has not done is embraced the Bowles-Simpson Plan and said let’s do this. To me, that is a start.

I also believe we need to tweak ObamaCare and not overhaul it. I firmly believe most GOPers do not know what they are sounding off against when they say repeal it. It is not perfect, yet it is getting at providing coverage to many. The extension of the age 26 requirement for adult children not in college has already added 1 million to coverage. And, it is getting at the industries who have gotten by with slave labor for a long time – that is why retailers, restaurants and other low margin businesses are crying foul.

The President is heading us down a path of greener energy. We need to continue on this journey. Solar energy cost has already been reduced form $9 a watt to $3 a watt. Some believe it can be at $1 a watt in the near future. Gas mileage standards, the promotion of wind, water and biofuels are also important. Fossil fuels need to be carefully diminished in our future. Domestic oil production has actually increased over the past year, more so than consumption demand, which means speculators are driving up cost over worry.

We need to invest more in education and the technologies needed to advance more productive businesses. We need to onshore more manufacturing jobs, so we can employ more here and learn, first hand, how to improve processes from people on the floor. We need to lift up impoverished communities through orchestrated actions which can center around a vibrant school or business. This has been shown to be a better use of charity dollars (please read “Toxic Charity”).

Finally, we need to move to a better living standard of wages. People cannot live on the  minimum wage that is offered today. I would advocate a living wage or something close to it. These low paying jobs perpetuate poverty and the costs show up elsewhere. I think this will help us get back to being the “shining light on the hill.”

So, let’s hear these voices and address our real needs. We don’t need to hear about contraception which is not an issue or same-sex marriages and gay rights which should not be issues any more in today’s world – they both should be supported.

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