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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

Voting, not sign holding, is best way to make a difference

October 17th, 2011 8:54 am by Robert Houk

It’s just like the ’60s, man. They’re taking it to the streets. Protesters are calling attention to all the ills of society — corporate greed, political mischief and wealth disparity. Yep, some think Occupy Wall Street and similar demonstrations around the nation are really going to shake things up.
I can’t help but think of something Jake tells Lady Brett Ashley at the end of “The Sun Also Rises.”
“Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Three years ago, protests sprang up across the nation in opposition to government spending and taxes. “Tea partiers” carried signs and shouted pledges about taking back this country from the evil they said occupied the White House.
Many of the first “spontaneous” tea party rallies were actually organized and financed by GOP operatives. It was American politics at its finest. The mid-term elections saw tea party sympathizers elected to Congress. But even as the tea pot continues to boil, some old-time Republicans worry they have created a monster the party can no longer control.
Tea party supporters want change, and by God they will work to get it. They get behind candidates (Republicans) who support their cause, and they make darn sure they get their voters to the polls on election day. Conservatives also don’t make any distinctions as to what office it is. They want their candidates elected whether it is for a seat on the school board or in the state General Assembly.

Instead of occupying Wall Street, progressive demonstrators would be better served to occupy a voting booth, and not just every four years to vote for a president. Too many Americans think being president is the most important political job in the land. Not necessarily. To truly effect change, a president needs a Congress that is willing to work with him. That is something President Obama learned all too painfully, even when he had Democratic majorities in both houses.
Whom you elect to local government offices, to the state Legislature and to Congress plays a big role in issues like legislative redistricting. And you can thank the Republican majority in the General Assembly for a new law requiring a photo ID to vote next year. Likewise, if you think state government is already too cozy with big business, you haven’t seen anything yet. Just last week, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey announced he was traveling the state with officials from the National Federation of Independent Business to examine ways to roll back state regulations on “job creators.” (Also, last week, the vice president of NFIB told a National Public Radio audience that the reason many businesses weren’t hiring is because too many would-be hirees are waiting for their unemployment benefits to run out.)
Never underestimate the audacity of the business lobby, and never underestimate the naïveté of a progressive. Too many of them mistakenly believe that carrying a sign and chanting slogans are enough to force politicians to do the right thing. What will work is for the 99 percent who feel shafted by Wall Street to go to the polls and elect public servants who will truly make a difference.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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