Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Where do you think Occupy Wall Street goes from here? What do you think will be its ultimate effect, if any? Electoral effect? Policy effect?


  1. My crystal ball has been busted since the '93 Canadian federal election. But I'll wade in anyway.

    Where go: I don't see anywhere it can go except into the punishing grind of ongoing low-level protest. There is basically no chance that it can develop into a mass movement, no chance that is can result in meaningful policy change, and no chance that the protesters are going to vanish. We should all prepare for a long winter.

    What effect: I think the longest term effect will be a cultural one. OWS is putting a microphone in front of long-simmering public resentment of Wall Street, and I think that more and more people are opening up their long-held beliefs. However, that will be short-lived. What it will do longterm is put anti-fat-cat talk, long popular (if bubbling under the surface) in American life, into the dirty-smelly-hippie category where respectable people (damn their hides!) refuse to tread.

    Electoral: No effect. I had hopes early that the media and chattering classes would take some tentative steps towards disengaging the economy's health from Wall Street's health, but there's been no effect I can see and it's not likely to happen, especially now with the financial media digging in.

    Policy: Only if we're lucky. In Canada, where Occupy just got going yesterday, I have noticed some very interesting policy proposals come skittering into the daylight as people got ready for protets. Of course, the Occupy movements themselves don't advocate anything, so using it as the basis for a coalition to advance proposals won't work. You have to take people energized by this inchoate protest and divert their attention to something worthwhile. It'll be hard to do.

    In that sense, it's similar to the Tea Party. Because there's no action there other than an outpouring of spleen, similarly to OWS, the Tea Party has had cultural impact but almost no political impact. Where the "Tea Party" has been invoked in politics, the outcome has been a hodgepodge of mostly libertarian nonsense that individual Tea Partiers don't actually identify with, other than through the PR. It's been notably incompetent at actually advancing the political agenda of the people in the movement. I see OWS as having, at best, a similar effect.

  2. Purely for linguistic reasons, I don't think it has the potential to turn into a broader political faction like the Tea Party. I mean, the Tea Party has the advantage that it can play off the pun of political parties, and allows phrases like "Tea Partier" to arise naturally. To contrast, you get awkward phrasings like "Wall Street Occupier" which just doesn't sound right. The phrase "Occupy Wall Street" necessarily refers to the protests themselves, and once the protests end, so does the phrase.

    Of course, that's a bit too literal a way to answer your question. I do think the OWS protests have a very real potential to energize the left, both in the sense of the capital-L Left and the more mainstream liberals. But in order for OWS to really impact the broader political scene, I think it needs for people who carry the OWS banner (in some sense) to issue primary challenges and for the Democrats to ultimately be successful in 2012 for fundamental reasons. If 2010 had been a Democratic year, the Tea Party would have just fizzled out as a bunch of impotent fury, but since the fundamentals were leaning towards conservatives, the Tea Party was able to take advantage of that.

  3. For better and for worse, the Democrats aren't as beholden to the left tail of the distribution as the Republicans are to the right tail. If I had to bet, the likeliest impact will be, like the equally massive WTO and Iraq War protests of years past, the impact of the 99% events will be indirect at best.

  4. Most likely scenario I see it stiffening the spines of some centrist Dems including the President and encouraging them to campaign on a more populist message in next year's election. Aside from that, not much will happen. Wall Street has too strong a hold on Republican members of Congress who are in position to block anti-Wall Street legislation for any meaningful bills to pass in response to OWS.

  5. @kth: your analogy to the Iraq protests suggests a possibility no one's yet mentioned: that instead of "stiffening the spines of some centrist Democrats" as Ron E. says, OWS could reopen a massively bitter, messy, and public split between grassroots and self-identified left, ot1h, and professionals and self-identified liberal-but-not-left, otoh. I think Kevin Drum's advice to remember whose side you're on, whether some people at the protests seem crazy and undisciplined or not, is important. But the fact is that it's pretty easy for protests to alienate potential sympathizers. Basically all it needs is a few minor ugly incidents and some scornful press coverage; and as strike veterans know, nothing erodes sympathy like inconveniencing people in their day-to-day routines.

    Of course, the Iraq protests analogy also raises the specter of some local politicians distinguishing themselves on the way to bigger things .....

  6. I agree with Tybalt, except that I think the crowds will dissipate once the weather turns bad, or they actually get kicked out the the park, or whatever.

  7. OWS needs to get into electoral politics (i.e. primary challenges) for it to be like the Tea Party. But many of its organizers seem totally against electoral politics. Also, it's likely to devolve in shouting matches between mainstream liberals and leftists/anarchists/Assangists/etc.

    Maybe it will revive if Mitt Romney gets elected, who knows. When Republicans are in power the Left and liberals are more likely to cooperate.

  8. Well, as Obama might as well have a Wall Street dollar sign tattooed on his forehead, OWS has no straight line recourse from him. That tattoo can't be illuminated by such as Romney, obviously, as he's similarly tattooed. A Paul can jump on this And a Cain could, but won't. So it'll lie dormant in presidential politics, for the most part.

    Might have a grass roots effect, but not likely so. This isn't the Tea Party crowd, which is truly populist and mainstream. OWS is easily marginalized, and will be. Bloomberg and the rest are just quietly waiting for cold nights to set in, while hamstringing the cash flow and logistical support for the marginalized.

    And yes, it'd take synthetic root during a President Romney's term, in a Cindy Sheehan sorta way, but not very deeply rooted. Schumer will still be collecting and spreading around Wall Street cash, so at root, the marginalized will have no political support.

    The OWS would have to whack a Mike Castle or 2, and whack a McConnell acolyte in a Kentucky or 2, and elect a Rand Paul or 2, before claiming anything substantial. The Tea Party had and has a direct effect on electoral politics, and that's the only measure.

  9. I notice a trend in this comment section of folks assuming that these protests are going to go the same way that past examples of leftist protest movements have gone. I think that's a mistake.

    The WTO protests and the anti-war protests were not endorsed by the Democrat party or (esp. In the WTO protest case) by the mainstream Left. Obama is sending strong signs that he is not only sympathetic, but that he is going to use very similar themes as OWS in '12. (did you all read the article today about how much money Romney has gotten from Wall Street? The article described how Wall Street has turned its back on Obama. Thats gonna be the Obama '12 pitch) All the Left leaders have either expressed similar sympathy or have outright endorsed he movement.

    That means that the rank and file Left is going to lean towards being supportive. Of course more violent or extreme protestors will give some bad optics, but it seems like the Left has little choice but to push hard on an anti-Wall Street narrative.

    And, if Romney wins and the GOP takes the Senate, I expect the protests to explode and give powerful electoral momentm to the Left going into '14 and '16. Because the average American is going to be prone to revolutionary thought until that income gap starts to close and folks start feeling more comfortable about their standard of living.

  10. Would not underrate the value of months of demonizing millionaire white guys in suits when Obama's about to run against one. Absent an economic miracle, an incredibly populist campaign against Romney might be the only thing that wins the election and this is the kindle for that fire. I'm not sure how far he's willing to take it but it seems to me the only path the victory.

    So if he takes this and runs with it, I'd say this will have been enormous. Even historic.

    That's an 'if'.

  11. oops "path to victory"

  12. buncha responses here seem uninterested in the plain fact that american wealth distribution, joblessness, medical costs, ecological costs, and more, are all unsustainable in the medium term.

    it's been noticed that very high profile NEWS articles speak of protesters' employment status as character flaw.

    please note that this may indicate the ongoing presence of a 'great moderation' logical framework in the minds of liberal commentators, which may make their personal crystal balls unreliable.

  13. hapa: I'd guess most of the commenters are very interested in all those facts and want things done about them. But the question Jonathan posed was what do we think the real world effect of OWS will be. As the OWS protesters well know, our politics is rigged against anything being done about these issues. That's why we're mostly predicting little if anything concrete changes will happen. We'll be quite happy to be proven wrong.

  14. This is slightly O/T, and I'm not a liberal, but my wife pointed out an excellent summary, from Henry Blodget, of the underlying causes of the OWS protest. It essentially comes down to the age-old conflict between labor and capital; Blodget makes a pretty good case that labor has rarely been as much on the receiving end of that conflict as they are today.

    Blodget further notes, as do several commenters above, that the OWS movement does a relatively poor job of communicating this basic conflict or its several manifestations. Even if you generally support capital in the age-old labor v. capital battle, labor is still overwhelmingly the class that buys the stuff that ultimately lines the pockets of capital.

    If the forecasters are right, above, that OWS dies without a whimper, that seems to me to be a very bad thing indeed.

  15. (P.S. My wife's comment about Blodget's Gini coefficient chart in the above series, showing that America ranks 93rd in income inequality, way behind countries such as....India:

    "There's a reason Mother Theresa was able to draw so much attention to the plight of the world's marginalized from her work in India. Its cause they have so many as a result of their caste system!"

    Imagine how successful Mother Theresa might have been if she'd focused on Detroit.)

  16. OWS is potentially far bigger than the Tea Party.

    Tea Party is a party of reaction. Just look at their language. I'm not trying to pretend the federal deficit is NOT A BIG DEAL. But Tea Party types are more interested in the poltics of reaction than they are of solving it. Cain is interesting in that he is proposing a new form of taxiation -- NST -- which will be coming one way or the other.

    OWS has the potential to be far larger. Far larger. But we haven't seen that potential yet. It might be the next round of World Bank Protestors.

    Elecotrally, the biggest thing is a continuted decrease in youth turnout for Obama and democrats nationwide. Obama might mark the high point of grassroots particiaption in politics. Even my mother could talk intelligentlly about 2, 3, 4 and 5s. I don't see young people wanting to ever do that again for him.


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