Wall Street protesters will produce lasting change

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Herman Cain will never be president of the United States because he doesn’t understand the Occupy Wall Street protests and makes such statements as “If you’re not rich, it’s your own fault.”

Millions of Americans played by the rules, worked hard and have no home because bad eggs on Wall Street who got filthy rich created subprime mortgage pots and complicated derivatives they didn’t even understand.

These same hotshots fought bitterly against new regulations to make what they had done illegal. The regulations were signed into law by President Obama. Now Wall Street and GOP congressional leaders are fighting to undo or at least weaken them.

Like the protests against the Vietnam War 40 years ago, today’s protests are born of growing frustration and resentment over the irresponsible use of business and political power. Like those anti-war protests, the current protests will spread around the nation and will have stunning ramifications.

Of course, an American man or woman can still have a great idea, work hard and become wealthy. But it is also true that 26 million Americans don’t have jobs because of the bad economy. Just try getting a loan to start a risky new business today. If you’re lucky enough to have a job, just try retiring after the economy has blown a huge hole in your 401(k).

The ill-structured, sort of loopy Occupy Wall Street movement is powered by the young, just as the anti-war movement was in the beginning. But as messy as it was, the anti-war movement begat huge changes in American society and politics and so will this one unless it dies out or is co-opted.

The anti-Wall Street protests, rapidly spreading from coast to coast, are born of the unfairness rampant in America. We Americans have prided ourselves on our insistence on fairness. But there is little fairness today.

Immoral, not illegal

At his latest press conference, Obama was asked why nobody went to jail for causing the economic meltdown, with its huge collateral damage around the globe. He said it was because a lot of what was done was not technically illegal, just immoral. That’s why, he said, financial regulations to clean up Wall Street that were passed with great difficulty mere months ago must not be discarded and why the new consumer fiscal watchdog agency must not be weakened. (Even in all this turmoil, what are banks doing? They’re imposing new fees.)

Like the amorphous Tea Party, which almost put the country into default, it is difficult thus far to know what the Occupy Wall Street movement wants to accomplish. The Tea Party too sprang from dissatisfaction with the way the country is being run, but along the way it got enmeshed in denial of basic science such as evolution and climate change, abortion, prayer, resentment over bilingualism and a host of unrelated issues.

The fledgling anti-Wall Street movement will not make that mistake because its supporters include many young people less interested in a conservative social agenda than in finding jobs and punishing corporate greed and CEOs who are sitting on huge profits and lack vision. Their hero is not Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or Rick Perry but the entrepreneurial, imaginative, the late, low-key Steve Jobs.

Ann McFeatters, a Scripps Howard News Service columnist, has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.