A message that ‘should be obvious’

The common concern about the Occupy Wall Street protests is that their message is not yet clear. It’s impossible, or at least should be, to deny the economic anguish that has helped generate the demonstrations, but unlike more traditional political movements, the Occupy Wall Street activists aren’t explicitly bringing a set of demands to those who will listen.

That said, the New York Times editorial board argues today that the “message — and the solutions — should be obvious” given the economic conditions.

At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down that middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people. On one level, the protesters, most of them young, are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity. […]

The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters’ own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery. […]

Extreme inequality is the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector that is driven as much by speculation, gouging and government backing as by productive investment.

When the protesters say they represent 99 percent of Americans, they are referring to the concentration of income in today’s deeply unequal society.

While the Times‘ editorial board gets it, Republican hostility towards the protests continues to grow. This past week, both Mitt Romney and Eric Cantor condemned those calling for a commitment to economic justice, and on the Sunday shows this morning, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain denounce the protests, too.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said this morning she supports the demonstrations.

The NYT editorial said the larger problem “is that no one in Washington has been listening.” I’m not sure if that’s true. Many in Washington are listening — with some deciding that it’s time to focus on rebuilding the middle class and some deciding that such efforts are “class warfare” that distract from the need to cut taxes for the wealthy again.

Which of those visions excels will depend on which voters bother to show up at the polls in 13 months.