It’s completely true that Occupy Wall Street has floundered in gaining political muscle. That being said. If Obama is reelected, he’ll have Occupy to thank for it.
In an interview with 60 minutes, Ronald Reagan’s budget director David Stockman revealed that in the last 30 years, the wealthiest five percent of this country has accumulated more wealth than was created during the entire expanse of human history. That’s startling, but it gets worse. From 1979 to 2007, 40% of all the wealth gains went to the top one percent. The bottom 90% of Americans combined earned less than the gains of that one percent. At the same time, while incomes for the bottom 50% of Americans declined by 33%, the top one percent has seen their wealth jump 256%. The richest 0.1 percent has seen their wealth surge 400%. As it stands, the richest 400 people in this country own more wealth than the bottom 50% combined; 150 million people.
Most Americans would be hard pressed to explain government’s role in creating the wealth disparity. Nearly every American however is acutely aware of stagnant wages, dwindling benefits, depleted savings, dramatic debt, and the precarious job market. In September 2011, Occupy Wall Street became the living embodiment of that awareness. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class fritters away like sand being blown from someone’s hand by an unrelenting wind. Enunciated by the simple and inclusive axiom, ‘we are the 99%.’
Despite the curious distinction of being ignored and berated, Occupy has single-handedly dragged income inequality over their backs into the light of a national dialogue. Their political aspirations have not materialized. Their societal impact and pronounced influence on the upcoming election however, should not be underestimated.
During his time as a White House assistant, Bill Moyers notes a conversation between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Baines Johnson. President Johnson wanted King to wait and give him a chance to convince Congress to act on behalf of civil rights. King balked at that sentiment and discussed the murders, lynchings, the churches set on fire, the children brutalized, and the unjust castigation of men and women. At meetings end, LBJ put his hand on King’s shoulder and said, to paraphrase; ‘ keep doing what you’re doing and make it possible for me to do the right thing.’ The conversation convinced LBJ that civil disobedience was needed to hasten the country’s crisis of conscience and force Congress’ hand. It worked.
The presidency is a powerful position, but they’re not emperors. Regardless of what LBJ wanted to do, the profound sacrifice of blood and dignity by the brave heroes of the civil rights movement was crucial in setting the national dialogue. The groundswell of support allowed enough political maneuverability to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Without the national discussion, such monumental laws would’ve been politically unfeasible.
In a similar way to King and LBJ, Occupy has provided the political maneuverability forObama to pivot to a substantive argument that his campaign is now clinging to like grim death. Economic fairness. In the simplest terms, Obama’s case is the economy is improving, but people are still struggling. We need to set policies that are fairer for the 99%. The interplay between the message trumpeted by the executive branch of government and the grassroots of Occupy creates an echo effect that reverberates through the population as succulent and immediately identifiable. Generating far more force than either could generate alone.
There’s also the added bonus of Mitt Willard Romney being the epitome of the one percent. Complete with a car elevator, a dancing horse in the Olympics, a quarter of a billion dollars in America and tax havens in Switzerland and the Caribbean, and an unbelievable 13.9% tax rate. In stark contrast, working Americans pay a 35% tax rate.
At the end of the day, this election will be close, pivotal, and immaculately expensive.Rolling Stones magazine has detailed 16 known billionaires investing astonishing sums of money into Romney’s campaign. It’s certainly worth it. Romney plans to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, roll back the weak financial regulation enacted after the collapse, and raise taxes on the poor and middle class to give the rich fantastically stunning tax breaks on top of the Bush tax cuts. His investors are going to get their money back in spades. As such, Obama is likely to be the first sitting president outspent by his challenger. Even if Occupy never manages to coalesce into a conventional political force. Tweaking the conversation from the Republican’s blunt object of ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’, to the nuanced ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ and economic opportunity; provides far stronger footing for the President. If Obama is to win, it will be on the broad back of Occupy’s message of making the economy work for the 99%. Not just the Romneys of the world.