Pandering to Occupy

Successful social movements spark the imagination and stiffen the spine of mainstream politicians, especially ambitious or desperate politicians.

Occupy has taken a lot of flak for failing to generate concrete policy proposals, but I’ve always thought that others will do that for them.  It’s already starting to happen.

Representative Ted Deutch, a first term Democrat from South Florida, has introduced an amendment to the Constitution intended to take corporate money out of the political system.  Lest anyone miss the point, Rep. Deutch calls it the “Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Constitutional Amendment.

The notion that such an amendment would pass even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, much less win a 2/3 majority in both Houses and ratification from 3/4 of the states, is fanciful.  Either Rep. Deutch is hopelessly naive or more interested, at the moment, in making a symbolic statement.  It’s likely to be only one of many attempts by mainstream politicians to share the movement’s spotlight and play to its supporters.

You want your political opponents sucked up in the long, complicated, costly, and generally unsuccessful politics of pursuing amendments to the Constitution.

Then yesterday, Barack Obama offered another answer to the question, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”  In a provocative speech delivered in Osawotomie, President Obama challenged the Republican Party with a vigor unimaginable before two months of  Occupy actions across the United States:

In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1% has gone up by more than 25% to $1.2m per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1%, the average income is now $27m per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6%.

Now, this kind of inequality – a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all…
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder…

President Obama called for an extension of the payroll tax cut for working Americans and increased investment in education and science, all financed by slightly higher taxes on the very wealthy.

Testing themes for his reelection, President Obama directed the blame clearly at the Republican Party:

Now, so far, most of my Republican friends in Washington have refused under any circumstance to ask the wealthiest Americans to go to the same tax rate they were paying when Bill Clinton was president….

That is the height of unfairness. It is wrong. It’s wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker, maybe earns $50,000 a year, should pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50m…

His speechwriters wrote the words, but Occupy provided the music.  When a movement is successful, lots of people try to join in and sing along–adding their own words.  It’s rarely harmonious.  For Occupy, it’s getting louder and louder.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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3 Responses to Pandering to Occupy

  1. chdd says:

    Thanks for this information, as you state, a common critique to the Occupy is what are their political goals and that they are going to achieve nothing. Here you show some road ahead and some hints of hope. Thanks.

    • Thanks. I don’t think the people on the front lines are always the ones who come up with the clearest demands. Already, lots of other political actors are bidding for Occupy’s support. I bet that continues.

  2. Pingback: Occupy and the 2012 elections | Politics Outdoors

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