Sunday, November 27, 2011


By William Fisher

Whenever I can, I try to watch David Brooks and Mark Shields in their weekly conversations with Newshour host Jim Lehrer. The reason is that this is one of the few, very few, opportunities we get these days to hear the views of a conservative who is not frothing at the mouth and threatening to abolish three (or was it two?) Cabinet departments.

But every once in a while something David says brings me up short and last Friday was one of those whiles. He and Mark were talking about the Occupy movement. David was wondering what the end game was. He was saying there is no leadership and with no leadership Occupy’s objectives could never be translated into permanent political change. That kind of change happens only when there are people lobbying hard for it in Washington, and the Occupy folks have no lobbyists – in fact the very idea is anathema to them.

Shields took a different view. He said the Occupy movement had changed the national conversation about income distribution. That was a subject, said Shields, that hasn’t been seriously discussed among ordinary citizens forever.

Brooks looked surprised. He said he couldn’t remember any other subject that has been discussed more, by more people, with more solutions.

That got a big rise out of Shields. He had a look on his face that said, “This is preposterous.” It was clear they were bringing news from their respective parallel universes!

And, truth to tell, maybe there’s some “right” in both positions. Maybe, in David’s world of think tanks and policy wonks, income redistribution is on the agendas of most reputable economists. I would expect these guys to be reading The New York Times.

But, out in the hinterlands, where a good deal of Shields’s constituency is, this is not exactly the sexiest subject on the agenda. In fact, it is not unfair to say that it is a subject that causes people’s eyes to glaze over in rapid order.

This disconnect between the nation’s capitol and the nation’s heartland extends far beyond who’s getting how much of the national wealth pie. For that subject is subsumed by larger issues such as the “appropriate” roles and size of government.

The “Tea Party” embraced that question, but by and large their answers were un-constructive, motivated by pandering and based on ideology rather than fact. They looked wild-eyed and ill-informed.

When the Occupy Movement ends up in the corridors of power in our nation’s capitol – and, one way or another, it will -- it can’t afford to look ill-informed.

It must come with ideas the average voter can understand. These ideas would begin to right the wrongs of income concentration, without destroying our wealthy citizens or fomenting revolution.

The ideas are out there. Eventually, what Occupy will need is an audience of legislative champions who understand our Tax Code. And the importance of incrementalism.