A year ago, if you remember, America was abuzz with the Occupy protests, which quickly added terms like "the one percent" to the lexicon. A year later, the long term impact of Occupy, beyond that phrase, appears to be so negligible that you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence that such a thing ever existed. During this election talk of economic inequality has barely punctured the public sphere. The presidential debates all approached economic issues from an inherently Rightist framework (no mention of labor right or inequality). The pundit class is able to get away with using the phrase "job creators" ad infinitum without challenge; the notion that the wealthy are magicians who conjure up employment now appears to be the conventional wisdom of our news media.
Why did Occupy fail to have any real impact this year? The answer lies in larger problems within the radical Left and its general approach. I have long been influenced and inspired by many of the ideas generated by radicals, but have also been frustrated and disgusted with their political style. All in all, Leftist radicals seem to disdain the electoral process as an agent for change, and lack any philosophy on how to grab hold of and use political power.
That tendency is revealed in the increasingly irritating Leftist cliche of the need to "speak truth to power." That's all well and good, but what about becoming the people with the power? What about wielding that power in an effective manner? I knew I could not take Occupy seriously as a long-term political movement when I saw how they attempted to govern their camps through a consensus process. Anyone who has served on an academic committee knows that rule by consensus is either impossible, or leads to short-sighted, bland groupthink. A movement without leaders is incredibly easy to ignore, which is exactly what the media and public has done with Occupy.
The inability to construct theories of government and the use of state power has afflicted radical thought for a long time. Most famously, Karl Marx called for a proletarian revolution, but was so convinced that this event would bring about the liberation of humanity that he never really bothered to lay out in any realistic way how the revolution would be implemented. These days radical Leftists seem so enamored of protecting their ideological purity and claiming the moral high ground of being the virtuous critics from the margins, that they appear to lack any ambition to be the ones at the center making the decisions.
Politics is not a game for saints or those seeking to maintain purity, which is something that the radical Right figured out a long time ago. Unlike the radical Left, the radical Right has scored major successes, and lives in the corridors of power that radical Leftists don't even seem to want to occupy. For example, there is a Tea Party caucus in Congress, anti-eveolutionists sit on the House science committee, an Ayn Rand-loving hard Right ideologue is the GOP vice-presidential nominee, and the biggest news network in America parrots talking points from the crazy-Right blogosphere. They are not content to play the role of moralistic critics like Leftist radicals, or disdain the electoral process as beneath them. As long as radicals on the Left maintain this attitude, they will remain ineffectual, powerless, and have no one to blame but themselves.