I'm going to focus on what's happening over in Jolly Olde England to-day because I think it provides us with a future model for how to organize against inevitable attempts to cut Social Security in the near future. Let's get started!
So what's going on in the UK? Well as you no doubt know, the recently elected Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition is enacting austerity measures that include gigantic increases to students' university tuition fees. This has not gone over well with the young folks and they have very quickly organized a massive protest demonstration that has knocked the business establishment back on its heels. The Guardian has a thorough report that everyone should read:
HSBC has joined the least desirable club in the business world. The bank yesterday became the latest target of a sudden surge in public fury over tax avoidance, as a guerrilla group of demonstrators under the elusive banner UK Uncut planned to occupy branches in London and Liverpool.
A "sleep-in" at an HSBC in Covent Garden was intended to highlight government cuts to housing benefit. UK Uncut, which has capitalised on a wave of activism sparked by student tuition fees, claims such cutbacks could be avoided if companies such as HSBC, Vodafone, Topshop and Boots paid a fairer share of tax.
HSBC is accused of seeking a deal with the Inland Revenue to lower its tax bill by £2bn, allegedly following in the footsteps of a dispute between Vodafone and the taxman in which the mobile phone company negotiated a disputed claim down to £1.25bn. Emi Summers, a spokesman for UK Uncut, claims businesses are securing "dodgy backroom deals" with the government: "These companies should be made to pay the full tax so we can save our vital public services from being slashed."
So what do you notice about this? Well first of all, you notice that UK Uncut has created a very clear and understandable narrative: "Your tuition fees are skyrocketing because a pack of greedheads aren't paying their damn taxes." This narrative is perfect and devastating because it draws a clear line between the Good Guys (the British middle and working classes) and the Bad Guys (wealthy British tax dodgers) and shows how the Bad Guys are getting away with robbery while the Good Guys foot the bill.
Why else do I love this? Because it's the antithesis of what too many of America's liberals do. I've often found that many pundits in our elite liberal class create arguments like they're trying to score points from debate team judges instead of persuading normal people. The most egregious recent example is this Ezra Klein post saying that maybe Peter Orszag shouldn't have cashed out at Citigroup, but hey, he's the most honest and nice guy I've ever met and besides, he's probably more interested in power than money at this point, so it's not fair to say he did it for the money.
The average person reading that post will have precisely no idea where Klein's sympathies lie and will instead be befuddled that Klein would describe someone who just recently left a high-ranking government job to work as a liaison between Citigroup and the government as "uncommonly honest." I was talking with an Australian guy at a Christmas party last night and he said that if someone in 'Stralia had done what Orszag just did, the press would be howling about corruption. In this country? Meh. I'm sure it'll be OK. Pete is uncommonly honest after all.
I guess my point is this: The American left needs fewer Ezra Kleins and more Don Drapers who understand how to quickly and effectively appeal to peoples' base emotions and gut reactions. The Tea Party crowd knows how to do this which is why they were so devastatingly successful in the last election. If liberals want to enjoy similar success we're going to have to toss out our cleverly-constructed, caveat-laden arguments and actually talk to the Joe and Jane Average in clear, precise language about Why They're Getting Screwed by our wealthy elites in both the government and business.
"But how would this sort of thing translate into an American campaign?" you ask. Well, the first thing every activist should do is read David Cay Johnston's "Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else" from front to back. Our tax code is a horrific mess that lets the rich get away with absolute murder. Just look at how companies like Google and Facebook funnel profits through multiple countries and end up costing the government $60 billion in revenue every year. Targeting big-name companies for their tax-avoidance schemes is how the UK protesters generated headlines. There's no reason a similar strategy targeting our own corporate tax dodgers would not work here.
What say the rest of you?