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Law and politics

The “We are the 99 percent” movement – the Left’s answer to the Tea Party?


In 2010, the tea party emerged from a mass of disorganized, grumbles and frustrations focused on Washington’s largess and Wall street’s perceived excesses and excessive influence in our nation’s capitol. The GOP embraced their frustrations and helped coalesce their complaints into an effective “party” that came to represent the demands of the far right of American politics. In 2011, we’re seeing a similar as yet non-partisan, grass-roots movement beginning to take shape around some of the frustrations of many Americans. The “We are the 99 percent” movement takes its name from the myriad of statistics that capture the fact that the top 1 percent of Americans enjoy 24% of the nation’s income and 40% of American wealth, with the remaining 99 percent “making do” with the rest.   But are there any clear, demands that can make their way to a lobbyist, politician or campaigners desk and be turned either into sound bites or, better yet, policy initiatives?

I fear that without those they just won’t get very far. Without those they’ll just sound like an angry mob upset that the economy sucks. As Bill Clinton said, the economy does suck, stupid.

The tea party wanted to throw out the bums, take “their” country back and stop the government from spending us into a recession. These ideas (right or wrong) were easily co-opted by the GOP machinery and honed into a clear policy agenda, lots of emotive sound bites, and a “we’re listening to the will of the people” campaign that shellacked the democratic party and swept the Tea Party infused GOP back into power.

I’m yet to see anything in the “we are the 99%” that quite sounds like that.
The only angle that could probably resonate, is this, from Ezra Klein’s piece “Who are the 99 percent?”:

“But this is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.”

Throw some teeth *on there and it could quickly morph into populist anger at the haves on wall street and K street who have spun their way down both sides of the aisle in Washington and who have the government working for that powerful 1% and not the 99%. Of course that could easily be deflected by vested interests as “class warfare”, but the reality of the situation is there’s a strong undercurrent of resentment that the “haves” aren’t willing to tighten their belts to help the country recover, while the “have-nots” are already going without and being asked to do without even more.

Spun the right way, that’s an argument that could give some energy to Obama and the democratic party’s new found populist turn, the administration’s “take it or leave it” jobs bill and Obama’s “Warren Buffet tax” initiative to get the wealthiest Americans to do their part to help pull the country out of the recession.

But do the dems have the balls to embrace this uprising the way the GOP did the Tea party? Are they prepared to arm their own Leftist fringe with teeth and let them wreak havoc come election time? Or will Obama be again too worried about appearing reasonable and balanced to first co-opt and then unleash this potential new, populist force for change?

It’s a new force that has the potential to both rally and energize the left and shift the conversation in Washington a bit more towards the left (or some might say back towards the middle from where the Tea Party Fringe helped move it last November). We’ll have to wait and see how the democratic machinery reacts to it. Based on what we’ve seen so far though, I wouldn’t expect them to use the 99% movement anywhere near as effectively as the GOP used the tea party in 2010.

Of course, there are also those who claim the “Occupy Wall St/99 Percent” Movement can be powerful because it’s vision is one of change and non-violent revolution against what they perceive as a corrupt system – with Wall Street playing a key role in this corruption. There is some beauty in that imagery, however, without at least some minimally clear goals that can be spun into sound bites, slogans and (ideally) policy initiatives, the movement could well peter out without occupying much more than a few casual bloggers’ headlines.

*The self-proclaimed “home of the 99% of Americans movement 99americans.org, certainly has a lot of teeth. Their connection actually is to the current fledgling movement is as yet uncertain.

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