President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address dripped with the same language that flows through every Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampment and protest across the country. Obama promised, for example, to “hold Wall Street accountable” and he put big banks on notice: “the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again,” he thumped from his pulpit. Off and on since September 17, 2011, when OWS erupted in New York City, Obama has directly and indirectly addressed the concerns of the protest movement.
Obama’s sympathetic ear to the cries from the Occupy Movement is not surprising — most people believe that OWS is a Leftist movement that is directed toward a Democrat-leaning citizenry. This is only half true. Standing on a foundation of broad economic commonalities, the mantra of fighting for the 99% is a genuine overture that aims to cut across party lines. The appeal of this politically transcendent call for economic justice is precisely why the Republican Party is increasingly comfortable with co-opting OWS grievances and messaging.
For those on the Left, this recent perversion of Republican Party discourse is bewildering, yet we cannot help but indulge in the schadenfreude of watching conservatives squirm when discussing — at their own behest — progressive bailiwicks like income inequality. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is beating up his wealthy Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, for being too successful. Romney, rather than embracing his silver spoon upbringing and financial achievements, bristles at such “accusations,” and appears very uncomfortable discussing his own capitalist success story. When you add to the mix Ron Paul, a libertarian with broad support among OWS participants, it’s no wonder OWS has fully penetrated the presidential race.
The Republican Party’s embrace of OWS themes (e.g., anti-big bank, economic justice) and language (see even Romney embrace the 99%) is a sure sign that the outrage and frustration kicked up by OWS has gone mainstream. Both major political parties are aligning with, adopting, or co-opting the lingua franca of OWS to cast their nets as wide as possible across a country where the middle class is disappearing, education is diminishing, lack of healthcare is detrimental, and persistent unemployment is debilitating.
In the coming year, the Republican Party nominee and President Obama will be taken to task by OWS (namely by way of journalists and debate moderators): Republicans for being the party whose policies benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99%, and the White House for not indicting a single individual behind the economic meltdown of 2008 and for doing so little to protect the homes, healthcare, education, and jobs of those who suffer most because of the ongoing economic crisis.
In short, OWS speaks to the American people. Presidential candidates are finally learning to speak the same language.
Weigh in: Do you agree that OWS has successfully inserted itself into the presidential debate? Or am I ascribing too much success for the movement?
Shaun Randol is the Editor in Chief of The Mantle
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons