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 is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.