I was sitting in my dentist’s office getting a crown fitted on my molar. His office overlooks Millennium Park. On a perfect fall day, at the end of a perfect week, I could see the Chicago skyline perfectly reflected in The Bean. My dentist was planning to spend his weekend playing a last round of golf at Medinah. I was going to the Blackhawks home opener. If every week in Chicago were like this one, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
Semi-Good Economic News
I drove to work listening to radio reports that America added 103,000 jobs in September. Not a stand up-and-cheer number, but better than expected. Walgreens, Target and Macy’s reported consumer sales were up over the same month a year ago. The radio news commentators warned of traffic delays and bus route changes over the weekend because the Chicago Marathon was attracting a record number of entries.
When I got into the office, my inbox was filled with a dozen emails from clients about videos I am producing. As a freelancer––which in statistical parlance means one of the permanently unemployed––that is a good sign. It means you are working.
Ambivalent Feelings About Occupy Wall Street
Only a couple week ago, I struggled to write a story about Occupy Wall Street. The nebulous protest against corporate greed started with a few hundred unemployed performance artists camping out in Zuccotti Park across from Wall Street. When 700 more were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, news coverage spread like wildfire and so did the protests. By midweek, they had spread to 800 cities in 30 states.
The protests eclipsed the decision of Sarah Palin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie not to enter the presidential race. They made Mitt Romney’s major foreign policy speech irrelevant. Even President Obama’s successful take down of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen with hellfire drones didn’t make a dent in the coverage. The story led the evening news on CBS and NBC. Angry people and clever signs always do. MSNBC detached its anchors to broadcast the protest live from the demonstration site, much as Fox News did when the Tea Party was in ascendance. The pundits predicted that Occupy Wall Street might be a welcome alternative on the left to the Tea Party on the right. In the media––the only place where America’s economic plight is being seriously debated––it did.
A Malarkey Manifesto
“They Got Bailed Out, and We Got Sold Out” and “We Are The 99%” quickly became catchphrases for the movement. (“This is My Sign”––a protest sign captured by a Wall Street Journal photographer––did not.) Then two things happened: one good, one bad. The Teamsters, United Auto Workers and Service Employees International unions joined the fray; and a website called nationofchange.org issued what it called “the first official, collective statement of the protests in Zuccotti Park.”
If you read it carefully, it amounts to a malarkey manifesto charging corporate America with all manner of malfeasance: excessive salaries, illegal foreclosures, poisoning the food supply, torturing animals, discrimination, colonialism, using the military to suppress freedom of the press, murdering prisoners and creating weapons of mass destruction.
Stump Takes a Pass
With apologies to his many followers, our chief political correspondent Stump Connolly sent a letter to his editor the next day saying, “Sorry, I can’t write about these nut jobs. I sympathize. I marched against the war in the 60’s and spent many late nights around kitchen tables in college coming up with a bold new agenda for America. But I never expected anyone to take me seriously. These people do. They’re as delusional as Rick Perry jogging around Texas with a .308 Ruger strapped to his thigh in case he’s attacked by coyotes.”
At The End of The Day
When I got home Friday night, my son threw himself into my arms after a good day in school. I took the laundry in to the cleaners and returned home to open the mail. Among the few missives that are still sent carried by postal workers was my Cook County property tax bill. This one is 27 percent higher than last year. The schools, the park district, the forest preserve district, the county itself needs more money, and the only way they can get it is through a property tax increase. If only the federal government could follow suit.
These are the things we think about at the end of the day. That, and whether the roofer is going to show up to fix the leak in the ceiling. It all seems kind of small bore when the headlines are filled with trillion dollar deficits, but for most of us, that’s life.
Who is to Blame?
There’s not much to be gained from looking back and assessing who is responsible for all this. The city, the county, the state, the federal government, the Wall Street bankers who facilitated bad loans or the main street consumers who ate them up? A president who promised change? Or a hard core nucleus of 60 Tea Party Republicans in the House who made sure he didn’t deliver?
We are at the end of a decade of delusional optimism. And we can’t blame President Obama or Congress for it. We can only blame ourselves. In a democracy, we were a woeful citizenry. We let things go on that we never should have. We were ignorant, self-absorbed, and profligate in spending more money on ourselves than we earned. We were, in a word, stupid. And I don’t expect we will get smarter any time soon. (Especially, if we fail to improve our educational system.)
Sure, when the pollsters call us on the phone, 46 percent of the respondents say we support the Occupy Wall Street protests, according to the latest NBC/Time poll. (20 percent oppose it, and 34 percent are understandably confused.) But what does that mean? And what does it matter? In 2010, when the Tea Party captured control of the House of Representatives, 62 percent of the eligible voters didn’t even bother to vote. If you care, you have to vote.
Maybe the Occupy Wall Street movement will rekindle the spirit of change in America. But where do you start? And who do you vote for? For now, Occupy Wall Street isn’t so much a protest as an expression of our despair. Because there’s a lot to occupy us just trying to get by – like how to pay for fixing our teeth and waiting for the next perfect day.