Free Markets, Free People


How to respond to #OWS

My esteemed colleague George Scoville brought to my attention a post about how Republicans are making a mistake in their responses to the Occupy Wall Street protests/movement.  John S. Wilson at Mediaite argues that mocking OWS, tying the unruly protestors to the Democrats, and waiting for the protests to fade is just how Democrats set themselves up for a beating by the surprisingly resilient Tea Party.

Wilson is right: conservatives are underestimating OWS. While individual protestors on camera often have no idea what they’re talking about, that’s typical for a large protest; it doesn’t mean OWS is bound to flop.  Unless Republicans think Obama won such a convincing victory in ’08 because the voters knew him so well, they should absolutely take this movement seriously and respond energetically.

That said, a few of Wilson’s points are false.  Like:

“The message is as clear as the implications: income inequality has gotten out of control and is untenable.”

Is that what OWS is about?  Seemed to me that the original demand was to remove money from politics.  And why Wall Street if it was just about income inequality and not, say, bailouts and financial reform?  Why are there enough anti-war protestors to take notice?  Why haven’t they been able to organize around a clear income-equality agenda?

In any case, the best counter-messages so far have been the ones that place a wedge between the protestors and the Democrats who they might vote for.
  • Once they were reminded of how much money Obama got from the financial sector, Democrats were forced to get into the weeds about who’s getting more money from Goldman Sachs et al.
  • The anti-war protestors have to contend with the fact that it’s been Democrats running those wars, and getting involved in new ones, for the last 3 years.
  • The stimulus and bailout bills had plenty of giveaways to large corporations, many of whom were allies of Democrats who voted for those bills.
  • Student loan forgiveness is the worst stimulus policy ever, especially when college grads have a low unemployment rate and the average 2011 college graduate starts at over $50,000 — instantly vaulting them into the top 25% of incomes.

They’ll still think Obama is better than the Republican, but the idea is to make them less energetic supporters.

The college grad thing brings me to another misconception:

“that [tax cuts] message probably isn’t endearing to rural white voters who make less than $40,000 a year. How could it be?”

This is just denial.  Those voters voted GOP in 2010 when it was all about fiscal issues and Big Government.  What does Wilson think has changed about the GOP message since then?

Democrats keep thinking that if they promise to pick Group A’s pocket to give to Group B, Group B will always love them.  But electoral politics is less about policy than signaling loyalties and aspirations. What do the rural white low-to-middle-income voters see on TV and in photos?

  • a bunch of urban college kids bleating to have their loans forgiven
  • the usual screamers and hippies protesting war (is that endearing to the typical Southern or rural family? and does the anti-Israel contingent appeal to evangelicals?) and fossil fuels (which goes over really well in coal towns and places where families are supported by oil jobs)
  • city folk fighting with cops and local businesses and generally trashing their surroundings
  • bongo drums and twinkle fingers and “the people’s microphone”
  • unions openly organizing at these events

When they see that, they don’t think, “Hey, those are the kind of people who will look out for me.  Let’s give them a shot.”  They’re thinking, “Those are the unwholesome whiners who call me a hick and want to shutter the local factory when they’ve never worked as hard as I do.”

It doesn’t help the Dems that they’re technically the party in power, and have had the upper hand since early 2009.  This would be more fertile ground for Tea Partiers if they hadn’t become so associated with political division and gridlock; they should concentrate more on unifying policies like:

  • good government
  • opposition to bailouts or any special favors for special interests, especially Big Business
  • requiring that military interventions involve a clear national interest, which can be mixed with a message of maintaining support for the troops

Offering conservative/free-market solutions on each of those things takes the wind out of OWS’s sails.  Tax reform, more transparency/accountability in government, opposing all energy subsidies instead of just the “green” ones, etc.

That’s how I’d respond to OWS.  This is precisely the time for Tea Partiers to go out and remind everyone that they’re better-behaved protestors who are running against Washington and against special interests, and to remind the other side that the small-government folks still have energy of our own, and challenge OWS on just who they think their champions are.

Bryan in fewer than 800 words: Follow Bryan on Twitter.

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5 Responses to How to respond to #OWS

  • Is that what OWS is about?  Seemed to me that the original demand was to remove money from politics.  And why Wall Street if it was just about income inequality and not, say, bailouts and financial reform?  Why are there enough anti-war protestors to take notice?  Why haven’t they been able to organize around a clear income-equality agenda?

    Bait and switch.  The initial message was a obfuscation to try to swell the movement as big as possible and hide the originator’s pro-government leaning.  Pro-government is an understatement.  If the connection to Canadian groups is correct, some of these folks are hardcore Leninists.  The dislike for Wallstreet (aka rich people) is about the only common point of intersection.

  • I suppose we must beware of complacency. Nonetheless I go with George Will who wishes #Occupy long life and abundant media coverage.

    These folks are basically the hard left ANSWER rabble seen at the WTO protests in the late 90s and the Iraq War protests in the 00s. They are not as smart or as moral as the 60s protest movements, and the Democrats aren’t as smart as they think  either, from Obama on down.

    Still, “Don’t get cocky,” is always good advice.

  • When they see that, they don’t think, “Hey, those are the kind of people who will look out for me.  Let’s give them a shot.”  They’re thinking, “Those are the unwholesome whiners who call me a hick and want to shutter the local factory when they’ve never worked as hard as I do.”

    While I believe the above is true, I also think there’s some of the “Wall Street has fixed the game so they win no matter what” feeling going on as well (ie out here in the hinterlands, not the OWS folks).

    The ‘trick’ is to tap both sentiments IMO.

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