Inequality. Fairness. Cracking down on CEOs. These could be hand-painted slogans on Occupy movement signs.
Or they could be the takeaways from President Obama’s latest State of the Union address and his subsequent tour across several swing states. In yet another sign that the Occupy movement’s call for a focus on the income gap has solidified Democratic messaging, the President’s first big political moment of 2012 has a decidedly Occupy Wall Street tinge.
I was talking to a congressional candidate at an off-the-record briefing recently. This candidate mentioned that while the more unsavory parts of the Occupy movement make them mostly too hot to handle for a full official hug, the movement has really done a lot to unify Democratic messaging around a single cause: economic inequality. In past elections — 2008, 2010 — economic fairness was just one of many things Democrats would focus on, leaving the party without the kind of unified message that helped propel the GOP in 2010.
Obama’s SOTU, seen by most as signaling the kind of campaign he intends to run this fall, seemed to prove the candidate’s point. Critics lamented the lack of focus on climate change and other signature Democratic issues, but progressives in general celebrated the talk of making the American economy fairer.
Obama’s allies note that this kind of stuff has been a focal point of Obama’s rhetoric for years before Occupy sprouted up, but one strategist I talked to acknowledged that the movement has had an effect.
“I think you can empirically say that [Occupy] has brought the issue of income inequality and basic fairness into focus in a way nothing else had for a long time,” the strategist said. “But as for the President, he has been saying the same things about fairness and rules of the road that everyone has to follow, for a long time.”
Furthermore, there’s an increasing focal point for these messages: Mitt Romney. True, the polls done on Newt Gingrich’s negatives are such that most Dems go to bed at night dreaming of running against the former House Speaker. However, in their heart of hearts most believe it’s just not going to happen, and that Romney will emerge as the nominee. Even a few months ago that thought caused some to tremble: after all, at that point Romney’s path to the nomination apparently ran through taking down Rick Perry and his tea partying talk on Social Security, then presenting himself to the public as the moderate who’d taken on the extremists within his party and won. As it panned out, Romney’s had to run increasingly to the right, and the fact that he tallies so perfectly with OWS’s messages about economic unfairness is the icing on the cake. Don’t expect to see Democratic bigwigs donning Guy Fawkes masks, but do expect to hear their rhetoric draw nearer to that of the protestors.