Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Alter’

Obama and OWS Shift the Debate

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

 occupiers in New York

A few weeks ago, Steve Benen wrote about how that Obama’s push for the Jobs Bill had shifted the terms of debate in this country onto a more favorable playing field for Obama and the Democrats:

For the better part of 2011, the battle lines were drawn in a way that Republicans loved. The only topics of conversation that were permitted dealt with debt reduction, entitlement “reforms,” spending cuts, and austerity. The question wasn’t whether Washington would impose pain on an already-suffering populace, but how much…

The discourse is now a very different place, because the White House had the sense to take a conversational detour. Thanks in part to a concerted p.r. campaign from President Obama, and with some pushes from Occupy Wall Street, the topics that now dominate are about job creation, financial industry responsibility, and tax fairness.

Rachel Maddow provided more evidence of this last week, when she used the simple measurement of how many times the mainstream media brought up the phrase “corporate greed” before Occupy Wall Street and after Occupy Wall Street. The results are dramatic. As Maddow noted, while much of the focus on Occupy Wall Street has been on the lack of answers the movement is providing, Occupy Wall Street has done something more fundamental: it has changed the questions that are being asked.

As I’ve said before, the top issue for the country is the same issue that it’s been for the past 4 years: jobs, jobs, jobs. For the majority of Americans, it was never about ”Obamacare” and it was never about the deficit. These are important issues, but they are not the core issues for most Americans. They were distractions from the jobs crisis that is plauging the entire country, and even more, they were distractions from the issues that predate the jobs crisis: the ongoing erosion of the middle class.

A recent study of income trends by the Congressional Budget Office showed that, in the past 40 years, incomes increased for the top 1% by over 275% on average as compared to a an 18% increase for the bottom 20% and just under 40% for the middle of the income scale. To many Americans, this will just confirm what they already know: the middle class continues to struggle as the rich get richer.

What looks to be a long term presence of the Occupy Wall Street movement guarantees that these issues will continue to be covered in the news. This is good news for Democrats. To be sure, Democrats have been part of the problem when it comes to regulating big business in America. Even with a 60 vote majority in the Senate, they still didn’t have the votes for a Wall Street reform bill with any teeth. But there’s a difference between being a part of the problem and being a wholly owned subsidiary of the large corporations and top 1% of earners.

As Jonathan Alter notes:

a healthy rebalancing of the national conversation is…under way. The Tea Party directed public anger against the federal government in general and President Barack Obama in particular; Occupy Wall Street directs that ire against Wall Street in general and — inevitably — Romney in particular.

This will have no effect on Romney in the Republican primaries, of course, but in a general election it could make him the poster boy of the big banks that many see as the cause of their woes. The specifics of his record running Bain Capital LLC will be subsumed in the image of his rationalizing the actions (resisting any tax increases) of the “1 percenters.”

But an even more important than the highlighting the consequences of Republican laissez-faire economic policies would be for Occupy Wall Street to put some steel in Obama and the Democrats’ spines and convince them that there is broad support for common sense regulations on big business and other policies that shore up the middle class.

Time will tell, but the events of the past few weeks offer some hope.