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Talking About a Revolution or Business as Usual?

02/29/2012 11:56 am 11:56:17 | Updated Apr 28, 2012

Back in the 1990s, when I lived in post-war Croatia, I was on the edge of a proto-environmental, social justice movement that first blossomed in the anti-globalization protests in 2000 and is rising again today with Occupy Wall Street. I am far from that life now (well, not if you consider pushing for paternity leave radical politics), but I am fascinated by the change in tone in the mainstream press since OWS. What seemed unthinkable in the 1990s and especially during the credit boom, which I covered as a newspaper reporter outside NYC, is now commonplace: open talk of socialism and the radical failure of market capitalism.

Really? Sometimes it becomes so clear what a bubble I inhabit in Sweden -- the good kind of bubble. Here are some recent stories that put words to this feeling I have of some kind of paradigm shift.

"Capitalism versus the climate": Naomi Klein goes to a conservative conference and confirms the attendees' fears. Yes, to save the world we will need to drastically reject everything they -- the conservative base denying climate change at the conference -- stand for. We will need to restructure the way the world works. And the climate must go before all else. Our survival depends on it.

"Is This the End of Market Democracy?": This is notable because it appears in the New York Times, though on the campaign blog, which suggests to me that it got smuggled in somehow. A Columbia journalism professor (Note: I went to Columbia) examines all the very respectable and mainstream economic figures who argue that we need a major change, that the current system is more or less doomed. Jeffrey Sachs invokes the success of "northern Europe" and its social democracy as a model. The article ends like this: At an undetermined point in the not too distant future, as the "gale of creative destruction" blows through the heartland, the debate will become inescapable.

"What Future for Occupy Wall Street?": A look in the New York Review of Books at how far OWS has come and where it is going. Basically, the story is not uplifting. Police intimidation is working. The lack of concrete demands and the insistence on radical consensus makes the movement hard to build. But you have to admire that the core group is about more than moderately changing the status quo. It is about a moral call for a new kind of society. And with a huge chunk of Americans under 30 in favor of "socialism," who knows where it will go?

"Bill Clinton: Someone We Can All Agree On": And for the counterpoint, we have Bill Clinton, the ultimate believer in working the system to make it all work. This is the standard view, and one that is very compelling: We have to focus on what is achievable. We have to look at what Obama has actually done. We have to find people real, concrete jobs, and not worry about all this hippie stuff on the edges. We have to be realistic about American culture -- that the country is center-right, and so on. I get it, I really do, Bill. But is that reality or just the 1990s calling?