As Zuccotti Park’s protesters prepare for winter, determined to carry the Occupy Wall Street movement’s message through the cold season and beyond, a perfect political storm is forming that might help Democrats keep the White House in 2012 – despite stubbornly high unemployment and a frustratingly slow economic recovery.
The storm stems from the OWS movement’s growing popular appeal, as a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans (over three quarters) think the country's current economic structure “favors a very small portion of the rich over the rest of the country” – echoing the protesters’ calls to reduce the power of major banks and end tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
The finding comes after a new census measure found that a new record number of Americans (49.1 million) now live in poverty, after accounting for rising medical costs and other expenses. In addition, a Congressional Budget Office study recently corroborated the historic exacerbation of the country’s income inequality (or widening gap between the so-called 1% and 99%). Both developments are likely to stir new debate over changes to Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that assist the poor as a congressional Super Committee approaches the November 23 deadline to make cuts of over $1 trillion to the federal budget.
This spells trouble for Republicans who so far have campaigned on repealing financial regulation, opposing any form of tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, and slashing public spending. President Barack Obama and the Democrats seem to have taken note of it since the president’s Labor Day populist makeover and have lost no time hammering the GOP for their opposition to the jobs bill and other initiatives put forward to relieve the American middle class – a core message with broadening appeals as the country’s growing income gap is increasingly seen as one of our main economic ailments.
But there’s a silver lining for the GOP. The same WSJ/NBC poll also found that 53% of Americans believe the national debt and size of government must be cut “significantly.” This poses a challenge for Democrats as it may renew pressure to address the politically toxic issue of entitlement reform. So, even as the OWS movement’s popular appeal offers “glimmers of hope” to Obama’s uphill reelection battle, the president’s ultimate success will depend on how well he convinces his base that he is determined to save Medicare and Social Security while convincing vital centrist voters that he is serious about tackling our country’s pressing fiscal problems.
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