Voice

Damn Bill Keller and the trenchant column he rode in on!

Bill Keller has moved on from the esteemed position of New York Times executive editor to the very vulnerable position of New York Times Op-ed Columnist Ripe for Mockery. 

Alas, it's hard to mock Keller's column today for two reasons.  First, Keller bothered to do some actual reporting, traveling to India to interview supporters of Anna Hazere to get their opinion on Occupy Wall Street.  Since the Times itself has suggested that overseas protest movements might inspire similar action in the advanced industrialized economies, this seems appropriate.  It certainly seems more appropriate than comparing the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring. 

The second reason is what Keller got from his interview with Anna Hazare associate Kiran Bedi: 

“When we started the movement, it was like Occupy,” Bedi told me. “But we went beyond Occupy.”

For starters, while Occupy Wall Street is consensus-oriented and resolutely leaderless, Hazare is very much the center of attention. There was an anticorruption movement before Hazare, but it was fractious and weak until he supplied a core of moral authority. When he announces his intention to starve himself, he parks himself on an elevated platform in a public place, thousands gather, scores of others announce solidarity hunger strikes, and TV cameras congregate, hanging on his every word. Hazare and his entourage can seem self-important and high-handed, but he is a reminder that leadership matters.

Second, the Occupiers are a composite of idealistic causes, many of them vague. “End the Fed,” some placards demand. “End War.” “Get the money out of politics.” Much of the Occupy movement resides at the dreamy level of John Lennon lyrics. “Imagine no possessions. ...”

Hazare, in contrast, is always very explicit about his objectives: fire this corrupt minister, repeal that law bought by a special interest, open public access to official records.

His current mission is the creation of a kind of national anticorruption czar, a powerful independent ombudsman. The measure is advancing, and Team Anna hovers over the Parliament at every step, paying close attention to detail, to make sure nobody pulls the teeth out of it. Instead of a placard, Bedi has a PowerPoint presentation.

Occupy Wall Street is scornful of both parties and generally disdainful of electoral politics. Team Anna (yes, they call themselves that) likewise avoids aligning itself with any party or candidate, but it uses Indian democracy shrewdly, to target obstructionists. Recently Hazare turned a special election for a vacant parliamentary seat into a referendum, urging followers to vote against any party that refused to endorse his anticorruption bill. Hazare has also called for an amendment to the election laws to require that voters always be offered the option of “None of the Above.” When it prevails, parties would have to come up with better candidates.

What really changes them,” Bedi said of recalcitrant politicians, “is the threat of losing an election.”....

“Occupy has been, to my mind, an engaging movement, and it’s driving home the message, to the banks, to the Wall Street circles,” Bedi said. “That’s exactly the way Anna did it. But we had a destination. I’m not aware these people — what is their destination? It’s occupy for what?” (enmphasis added)

Damn, that sounds familiar

There's one other big difference that's buried in Keller's column, however.  He notes that, "One poll found 87 percent public support for Hazare’s 12-day August fast."  While the Occupy movement is certainly more popular than the Tea Party movement, I haven't seen a single U.S. poll demonstrating that breadth of public support. 

Am I missing anything? 

Daniel W. Drezner

A Very Important Post about.... eurogoggles

[NOTE:  The following is a public service message from the hard-working team at FP Magazine to the policy wonks and market analysts inside the Beltway--ed.]

Has this happened to you in 2011?  You're stressed out from a long day of reading/writing/number crunching/contingency planning and you're looking to unwind and enjoy yourself.  Then you see the latest announcement of a European summit meeting and proclamations of a breakthrough deal that will resolve the plight of the Greek economy, the fragile state of European banks, and the perilous credit rating of southern Mediterranean countries. 

As you see stocks rise, credit markets soar, and the euro appreciate, the euro-optimism becomes intoxicating.  Pretty soon, the euro-giddiness starts to get to you.  You start to tweet things like, "the corner has been turned," post on Facebook that, "it's time to Europarty!!" and talk up the metric system again.  Nicolas Sarkozy looks like the brilliant progenitor of grand ideas and grand summits, and Angela Merkel is the shrewd politician who made the bankers blink

After a few hours or so of this, all the problems in the world look eminently solvable.  In your head, you've devised brilliant, intricate plans that solve the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, the India/Pakistan enduring rivalry, and the BCS college football rankings.  Before you know it, you've organized and presented a talk in which you provide the Mother of All Powerpoint Presentations to Solving Global Problems, charging the entire, catered affair to the Brookings Institution. 

Beware!!  You are a victim of Eurogoggles.  As the Economist will observe, "in the light of day, the holes in the rescue plan are plain to see."  Both AFP and Bloomberg will point out that the policy euphoria has faded the next day.  It will turn out that details are left unexplained.  The size of the bailout package, which looked massive the night before, will prove to be a limp, unsatisfying half-measure the next day.  The bank rescue fund and the Greek deal remain incomplete.  All you'll be left with is that vague sense of self-loathing at having been suckered again, and a strem of angry voice-mail messages from a DC think tank.  The walk of shame to your water-cooler the next day, in which co-workers mock your tweets of the night before, will be humiliating. 

Eurogoggles -- don't let it happen to you or your colleagues.