Friday night topic: Is inequality still a winning motivator?


— 5:30 PM on October 28, 2011

I've been watching the Occupy Wall Street effort and its associated attempts in other U.S. cities with some fascination. The running joke is that the "Occupy" protesters don't know what they want or don't have a single, coherent message. That seems wrong to me, although it's of course true that today's left is an assemblage of folks with sometimes very different motivating issues. The common focus of these protests is the income gap between "the 1%" of top earners versus "the 99%," or everyone else. That particular beef—and, heck, everything about the Occupy effort—seems to be ripped from a very old chapter of the leftist playbook.

The fascinating question for me is: Does it still work? Can complaints about inequality still generate substantial political traction in today's America? Can they even move the electorate to accept an unpopular President for a second term? That is, after all, the goal here, right?

I'm not sure it can't work. Al Gore ran a very traditional campaign sounding many of the same themes, and he essentially tied with Bush. Still, we do tend to have a strongly ingrained ethic that accepts outstanding and achievement and reward, one that focuses on opportunities and hard work rather than the sheer equality of outcomes.

So... we're not really looking to hear what you think about the really overdone size-of-government debate. The question of the night is: can concerns over inequality really unite a substantial political movement in today's conditions?

That, my friends, we shall... discuss.

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