Yes, Occupy Wall Street was dreamed up in part by flakes and populated in part by fantasists. But to the extent that the movement briefly captured the public’s imagination, it was because it seemed to be doing what a decent left would exist to do: criticizing entrenched power, championing the common good and speaking for the many rather than the few.’
The union rallies and the Keystone demonstrations, by contrast, represented what you might call the decadent left, which fights for narrow interest groups rather than for the public as a whole…
Likewise, the Keystone protesters haven’t been defending “the interests of wage-earning Americans,” to borrow the historian Michael Kazin’s description of the historic purpose of the American left. They’ve been harnessing the power of the Democratic Party’s wealthy environmentalist donors to actively kill off American jobs.
Stopping the pipeline won’t drive down demand for fossil fuels, or prevent Canada’s oil from being extracted and shipped around the world. But for a small group of activists and donors, keeping the pipeline out of their national backyard is all that counts, even if American workers pay the price.’
So even if you want to buy the dubious jobs argument about the Keystone XL pipeline, it seems weirdly backwards to claim that environmental protesters are the narrow-minded self-interested ones compared to economic justice protestors. I’m a big fan of income and wealth redistribution, but in an intra-American context it is what it is – making America’s poor and middle classes richer and America’s rich poorer. America is extremely wealthy but it is still only 4% of the global population, and while a more equitable redistribution of wealth would have second- and third-order benefits that would benefit the rest of the world it’s still only a solution to that particular problem. Conversely, it’s hard to see the Earth as a "narrow interest group." What the Keystone protestors did was classic organizing – take a problem ("humans are trashing the environment") and cutting an issue out of it ("this particular pipeline is an egregious environment-trasher and must be stopped") and taking direct, coordinated action designed to achieve a desired outcome.
And it worked! But claiming they’re the narrower interest group because they focused their energies on something specific is bizarre. According to Ross Douthat, then, all issue organizing is "narrow" and "decadent" and only vague gestures towards unspecified radical change is acceptable. Which is of course what a conservative would want the left to do. I think the Occupy movement has been largely positive for the American left and the causes it fights for, but it is far, far, far, far, far from sufficient to actually achieving anything remotely resembling a goal. When it comes time for the Occupy movement to focus on a particular issue or target, expect Ross Douthat to not merely disagree with them, as is his wont as a conservative columnist, but to deny them any legitimacy whatsoever.
According to Ross Douthat, pro-life protestors are only "decent" insofar as they don’t devolve into a "narrow-minded," "self-interested" group that advocates for or against specific laws or policy outcomes. I’m sure that’s his next column.