In just six weeks, Occupy Wall Street protesters have won. They can now rightfully declare victory, having changed the substance of our national conversation. Before OWS, the political narrative centered on made-up notions that taxes are too high and that the rich are paralyzed by oppressive government regulation. Today the debate is about whether our government favors a wealthy few at the expense of everyone else.
Like common sense, “economic justice” is an unfortunate term because it means, well, whatever to whomever. But despite the lack of a clear manifesto—or perhaps because of it—Occupy Wall Street has carved out its very own political niche. Occupy promotes equal influence of government and equal benefit from government for all citizens. This includes the rich, the poor and everyone in the middle.
Occupy Wall Street—the national movement—can celebrate complete success in establishing a brand. “Occupy,” formerly a transitive verb, has become a well-known proper noun. “The 99” has a clear identity, everyone but the very rich. And even the acronym “OWS” is near universally known, at least among people who read.
All of this happened without the corporate underwriting that feeds the “tea party.” No wonder front organizations like Tea Party Express are apoplectic. Despite fierce attempts to ridicule it, Occupy is already twice as popular as the tea party. Teabaggers are left to argue that they are cleaner, better dressed and better groomed. In reality, they are simply better funded, better directed, and easily manipulated. (But they do look spiffy in those teabag hats, I suppose.)
More importantly Occupy—this ragtag band of social revolutionaries—has managed to change the public conversation. While some Republicans—notably young-curmudgeon Paul Ryan—continue to scream “class warfare,” the claim has lost much of its vitality. Two thirds of Americans no longer believe the rich are victims as has been promoted by Republicans for years. That’s a huge change.
Smarter Republicans like Eric Cantor have noticed. Cantor (leader of the Vader wing of the Sith Lord Party) recently expressed sympathy for those frustrated by the distribution of wealth in the country, on FOX News no less.
"We know in this country right now that there is a complaint about folks at the top end of the income scale, if they make too much, and too many don't make enough. We are about income mobility and that's what we should be focused on to take care of the income disparity in this country"
Take a moment to let that quote wash over you. Insincere pandering? Sure. But incredible nonetheless.
Before OWS, corporate manipulators of the dumbass class—like the Koch Brothers—were in charge of defining the discussion. Sure we still have the incidental political stories—like whether Parry is a moron and whether Rubio is a pathological liar. But the largest part of our political narrative has shifted to the substantive question of whether our tax and regulatory policies are fair. Occupy deserves all of the credit for that.
No less than the Congressional Budget Office has now weighed in with inequality data. You’ve probably heard how the CBO found that the top 1 percent enjoyed income gains of 275% while everyone else’s income declined. But there is another important graph in the CBO Study. It reveals who has the money after taxes are paid and poor people receive assistance.
The poor lost income share, the working poor lost income share, the middle class lost income share and the upper middle class lost income share. Only the top twenty percent gained income share. And the top one percent got most of that. We are a less equal, less generous country than we were in 1979.
We wouldn’t be talking about that unless Occupy Wall Street had changed our discussion. In only forty-five days. OWS has utterly destroyed at least two entirely phony arguments. And it replaced them with a critically important one.
Congratulations Occupy Wall Street. You’ve won the first big battle. Now go win the war.