Occupy Wall Street has already beaten the Tea Party

December 1, 2011

By David Callahan

The views expressed are his own.

Occupy Wall Street protestors are pondering their next steps after police raids this week dismantled more Occupy encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In some ways, though, the movement has already scored its most important victory: It has changed the “narrative” that frames public debate. Polls show that the Tea Party story – about an America being destroyed by big government – has been pushed aside by the Occupy Wall Street story, which stresses rising inequality and corporate greed.

This is good news for President Obama. While there is little that Obama can do between now and next November to jumpstart the economy, he may have a strong chance at reelection anyway if Americans keep gravitating to a progressive worldview.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken earlier this month, 76 percent agreed that the “current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country.” In another recent poll, by The Washington Post/ABC News, respondents were asked: “Do you think the federal government should or should not pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans?” A majority – 60 percent – said the government should pursue such policies.

Meanwhile, public concern about the Tea Party’s linchpin issues – taxes and the deficit – has receded. Asked in late October to name the most important issue facing the country, just 5 percent of respondents to a New York Times/CBS News poll named the budget deficit. A majority said jobs and the economy. This same poll included another result that should give Democrats hope: A strong 69 percent of respondents agreed that the policies of Republicans in Congress “favor the rich” while just 12 percent thought the same thing about Obama’s policies.

Clearly, it is too early to count Obama out – even if it’s true that no president since FDR has won re-election with the economy in such bad shape.

To keep this new wind at Obama’s back, and to beat the historic odds, the White House needs to find ways to amplify the inequality narrative in coming months. Obama got off to a strong start when he proposed the Buffett Rule back in September (just a day after Occupy Wall Street set up camp in Zuccotti Park). And he has stayed on track this fall by pushing both higher taxes on the rich and new spending for job creation in appearances around the country.

But let’s be real here: tax hikes and big new spending plans aren’t going anywhere on Capitol Hill right now. And it’s hard to influence public debate with ideas that disappear into a black hole. What Democrats need are proposals that can both engage Republican lawmakers and feed public angst at being left in the dust by the top 1 percent.

That’s a tall order, but here’s one idea that could thread the needle: Tax reform. Nearly everyone in Washington wants to streamline the IRS’s Swiss cheese tax code and – with congressional approval at record lows – both parties have an interest in showing they can get something — anything — done on Capitol Hill.

Tax reform could have the biggest payoff for Obama. He should keep his efforts toward a fairer tax system, and less inequality, on top of the national agenda. A progressive tax reform plan would go after the plethora of tax breaks that favor wealthy individuals and corporations – while also creating a simplified, more efficient tax system and raising new revenues.

We got hints of this potential strategy earlier in the fall, when Obama called for eliminating tax breaks for corporate jets and oil companies at the same time as he proposed the Buffett Rule. A grander initiative would go after a bigger swath of corporate tax breaks – or all of them, as proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission last year. Ending the special treatment of capital gains and dividends, which dramatically favors the wealthy, should also be part of any plan.

In addition, Obama should push to restructure individual tax breaks that primarily benefit the well-off, like deductions for home mortgage interest and 401(k)s. It’s wrong that millionaires can write off the interest on their vacation homes while struggling renters get no help at all from the tax code. And it’s wrong to give the affluent big tax breaks for saving for retirement when 40 percent of Americans don’t have access to a 401(k) plan at work.

Inequality can feel like an abstract issue and voters may turn to other concerns before next November. But if Obama targets specific and grossly unfair ways that the rich get richer on the public’s dime, he could solidify what’s at stake in the new debate over inequality. It would be an epic battle with the legions of lobbyists who defend the 1 percent in Washington. But it would be his.

PHOTO: Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement hold a puppet of Former U.S. President George Bush as they re-enact a scene resembling a tea party in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in New York October 14, 2011. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


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The tea party is the 99%. The tea party is Occupy Wall Street.

Posted by JamesAnderson | Report as abusive

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Posted by Occupy Wall Street has already beaten the… | Report as abusive

The Teaparty is nothing but a front for the Koch brothers.

Posted by tommybones | Report as abusive

Of course the issues raised by the Occupy movement resonate with the public, but Neither Obama or the Democrats as a whole are going to be able to meet those expectations. They are too compromised by their dependence on Wall Street, which has been completely exposed as on of the two parties of big business, for those who had any doubts. Something new is required, which does not yet exist. I saw a great quote the other day which said that the crisis exists because “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”. That is exactly right.

Posted by RaceToTheBottom | Report as abusive

The Tea Baggers are Republican GOP that want to distance themselves from the fiasco the Bush Hillbillies and Reaganomics created.

OWS are true blue freedom fighters. I love OWS

Posted by sdstarlett | Report as abusive

Other than the fact that polls show America has a lower opinion of OWS than the Tea Party AND that more Americans identify with the Tea Party than with OWS…the article is spot on. ;-)

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[…] An article by David Callahan listed the effects of the OWS movement.  Apparently, what started as a grass roots movement without any real leadership or centralized ideas has become a national phenomena impacting both the social and political spectrums. […]

Posted by The Tea Party, OWS and the American people | occupyadvocacy | Report as abusive

I was unemployed for 10 months. Thankfully my wife works and we got through it, but we count on the mortgage deduction so that we can continue to afford to live in our house. We are hardly “affluent”, but are firmly middle class (economically speaking) and the elimination of this deduction would hurt us. Am I to be considered collateral damage in the quest to punish the wealthy?
Jobs and the economy are at the top of my list too, but the deficit is going to sink us so low that jobs and the economy will not recover. We’re due for another change and hopefully I can believe in it this time around.
Progressive tax reform? If i fall any lower I’ll be in the 47% that pays no income tax. I’d rather see a flat tax that everyone, including me, pays something into.
We can’t run our government according to the results of polls and we can’t count on the present administration not to continue to spend our economy into oblivion and no amount of ‘occupying’ is going to change that except occupying a voting booth in 2012 and electing a better alternative

Posted by Senior29 | Report as abusive

Common ground between the Tea Party and OWS is that we are tired of persons who have power and influence doing things to better their own situation, no matter how many millions are adversely affected by their actions and decisions. Both movements are also tired of not hearing the truth from said persons.

It would be very sad to see the White House co-opt the OWS movement, because the White House should be one of their targets – not a beneficiary.

Posted by BrentW | Report as abusive

They must have really scared someone, because the coordintated effort among cities to get rid of them, was SCARY!!!

Posted by minipaws | Report as abusive

OWS is dead in the water. Notice how, during this week of Wall Street peaks, hardly a word about Zucotti Park was uttered by the media? That is, in fact, the indicator you need most that this movement is on the outs. They had a great opportunity to make both their efforts and public sympathy a groundswell for real action and, instead, squandered it by refusing to name their aim. Now it has been named for them, like it or not.

You never get a second chance to make that first impression.

Posted by DwDunphy | Report as abusive

You say “…public concern about the Tea Party’s linchpin issues – taxes and the deficit – has receded.” Yes, today’s headline is always diferent from yesterday’s.

But America’s ever-growing deficit and spendthrift politicians mean that, inevitably there must soon be another increase in the debt limit if the status quo is to continue; and that debate is increasingly more acrimonious and difficult if simply because America is BROKE! This the relative that won’t go home after the holiday!

The inconvenient truth is that Americans and their elected representatives are going to have to come to some consensus as to what this country is to be. Only then can we begin the essential separation of our needs from our wants, essential because the days of blank checks are gone and gone forever and that inevitably means some things will not be funded.

America, for the first time, must prioritize! In the long run, that may “save” America. The Tea Party has a legitimate political presence with a role in the necessary debates. OWC has no legitimate presence and no role, being deaf, dumb and loud with nothing new to contribute to the conversation.

Available funds must increasingly provide for immediate needs, and so in the scramble attention to detail and cost control will be necessary! The bright spotlight of public attention will shine into the deepest, darkest recesses of the federal bloat, see the waste, and put it on a long-overdue diet.

A leaner, stronger government capable of meeting the evolving needs of America’s future growth and power . We CAN do it! We MUST do it!

Occupy was but a speed bump. It got our attention, but when America looked closely it offered no solutions. They offered no new ideas, only old complaints.

The world economy is evolving from industrial isolationism to information and labor globalization, a convulsion of no less magnitude than the industrial revolution. There will be winners and there will be human “collateral damage” as a cold, hard, impersonal matter of fact. In such a time America needs inspiration, not more discouragement and whining.

OWC is behind us. There is WORK to be done!

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Posted by Occupy Wall Street has already beaten the Tea Party | | American People's PlatformAmerican People's Platform | Report as abusive

Wishful thinking comes in many guises. Callahan confuses what he hopes will be with what will actually be.

The Tea Party had a significant impact on the 2010 elections enabling the Republicans to take the House. It is unlikely that they will lose the house in the upcoming elections and indeed there is a chance they could take the Senate.

Now let’s look at the impact of the OWS movement. Except in certain circles on the left and right coast the I suspect that OWS has been viewed negatively by the right (of course), but more importantly by the independent voters in the middle.

Their impact is unlikely to be felt at the ballot box: the left will vote for Obama, the right will vote for the anti-Obama and the floating vote will likely break more to the right because of their concerns for country and the deficit and because OWS shows what the entitlement society creates.

Callahan is very misinformed.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive

The contribution of OWS is just beginning. The fact that we now have a question emerging that politicians of both parties will have to answer: “What’s your position regarding Wall Street?”

More hammer needed? Same hammer but better enforcement? How would that look under your watch? Reduce government oversight? Increase it? Do you love banks enough to bail them out again? Would you pass a law prohibiting bailouts? Do everything the same, because it worked so well last time?

Bush never had to answer these questions publicly, but we saw the fallout in 2008 and 2009. I think the movement is valuable if it does nothing more than eventually create sides that politicians will have to pick.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Polls actually show that Occupy Wall Street is more popular among independents than the Tea Party. The difference is that, for all of its chaotic aspects, Occupy Wall Street is a veritable, authentic movement of the people, with many different kinds of supporters that run the length and breadth of America.

The Tea Party was a message-managed sideshow orchestrated by billionaires, and it showed.

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Posted by Occupy your favorite city! « khilborn1 | Report as abusive

Now that these folks from Occupy-Whatever have gotten used to urinating and defecating in the streets, when they go back home are their parents gonna have to house-break ‘em all over again? Teach ‘em how to use the potties, the bathrooms. If you are a parent of a “returning hero” from Occupy Wall Street you might want to put some newspaper down at strategic points inside the house. Particularly the bedrooms where your brave hero sons and daughters are returning home, after this valiant, valiant effort to overturn whatever it was they wanted overturned. But I am, at the end of the day, still a little sorry to see them all go… Every photo from the Occupy protests looked like a campaign ad for conservatism… And this my progressive friends is why they had to be cleared out of there. The Democratic party realized that…. and feared it. I am convinced the mayors of all the major cities got phone calls from the White House, or from David Axelrod in Chicago. Somebody on the Obama team told them, “Look, let’s shut this down because it’s not working any more.” The media gave it it’s best shot. The media tried to tell everybody “This is just like the Tea Party.” But it wasn’t…. and the Obama team finally had to admit to themselves it wasn’t.


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The OWS narrative was given its 15 minutes of fame by a sympathetic media including Reuters. The puppet theatre in Zuccotti Park has not changed the hearts and minds of middle class Americans in the middle of America who decide elections.

Obama’s policies have been a disaster as the next election will demonstrate.

Posted by King_Hussein | Report as abusive

Silly article, making false suppositions. Big government and corporate greed are working together. OWS and Tea Party are aligned on this. I suggest you see Ron Paul’s statements and interviews on the subject. Or you look at the empirical evidence: Obama-Geithner trillions of dollars robbery of the taxpayer for the banks – this is the Grand Bank Robbery of the 21st century.

Posted by Sal20111 | Report as abusive

@ DwDunphy

This recent market rally was an anomaly, not a trend. The forces that drive the the Occupy movement are not dwindling, they are accumulating.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

There’s only one problem with this article: It’s entire premise that OWS has beaten the Tea Party is entirely false. The simple fact is that this is not born out by any current polling comparing support for the organizations head to head. In fact polling shows the opposite. The article also ignores the fact that the Tea Party now has true political power i.e. seats in congress. OWS, arguably, has none.

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2 011/PPP_Release_US_11161023.pdf

Q7 Do you support or oppose the goals of the Tea
Party movement?
Support 42%
Oppose 45%
Not sure13%

Q8 Do you have a higher opinion of the Occupy
Wall Street movement or the Tea Party
Occupy Wall St. 37%
Tea Party 43%
Not sure 20%

Q6 Do you support or oppose the goals of the
Occupy Wall Street movement?
Support 33%
Oppose 45%
Not sure 22%

Posted by steve001968 | Report as abusive