The Political Achievements of the Occupy Movement

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 13, 2011

They really don’t amount to much:

President Obama is moving to energize the Democratic base for his re-election campaign, but in the case of a dozen battleground states, he’ll have to work harder than four years ago to find it.

Since the heady days of 2008, a new USA TODAY/Gallup Swing States Poll finds the number of voters who identify themselves as Democratic or Democratic-leaning in these key states has eroded, down by 4 percentage points, while the ranks of Republicans have climbed by 5 points.

Republican voters also are more attentive to the campaign, more enthusiastic about the election and more convinced that the outcome matters.

The contrasting conditions of the nation’s two major political parties — discouraged Democrats and resurgent Republicans — underscore how different Obama’s re-election campaign is from the contest four years ago.

Consider the math: In 2008, when Obama carried the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats there swamped Republicans in party identification by 11 points. Now, that partisan edge has tightened to a statistically insignificant 2 points.

And the “enthusiasm gap” that helped fuel a Democratic victory last time has turned into a Republican asset. Sixty-one percent of Republicans say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president next year, compared with 47% of Democrats.

Among the most enthusiastic are some of the GOP’s core voters: conservatives, middle-aged men and those 50 to 64 years old. Those who are least enthused include core Democratic groups that were critical to Obama’s election in 2008, including minorities and younger voters.

The Occupy movement was supposed to lend some momentum to the port side of the partisan divide. It clearly has failed to do so. And while the movement has sought to make business the bogeyman of the American political landscape, Americans distrust big government by a much wider margin. As Ilya Shapiro puts it, this is “sobering news for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, and surely an electorate for political candidates who want to shrink the size of government.” Given that the Occupy movement is willing and eager to work against the interests of some of the very 99% they purport to stand up for, I have little problem believing that they are getting what they deserve in terms of their political impotence.

Of course, the intellectual underpinnings of the Occupy movement fail to impress as well:

An entire field of economics, known as “public choice,” studies how small, concentrated groups with similar interests generally prevail politically against larger groups of diffused interests. And, in our society, these concentrated interests – like unions, defense contractors, religious groups, farmers , etc. – are not necessarily part of the “one percent” Occupy talks about, and several have even joined or co-opted the Movement. But they are part of the broader one-percent problem.

I recently participated in a debate about the Occupy Movement at the university where I teach. The representative from Occupy Chicago claimed to be speaking on behalf of the 99 percent, but the problem is that there is no single coherent 99 percent.There are many 99 percents depending on the issue at stake, and any successful 99 percent movement must be more nuanced and draw finer lines than the Occupy Movement has so far.

When focused broadly on just income or wealth, the message of Occupy is too radical to represent anything close to 99 percent of Americans. The representative of Occupy in the debate identified himself as a Marxist,claimed that the American dream is dead and buried, and argued the only way to solve our problems is for the government to overturn Citizens United and dramatically regulate political speech. The problem with this, of course, is that 99 percent of Americans do not support any of these assertions, let alone all of them together.

Even during the height of the recent financial crisis, about 60 percent of Americans still supported capitalism. Most Americans believe the American dream is still alive, and in a 2009 Gallup poll, nearly 60 percent agreed with the Supreme Court that spending on political issues is political speech. At best, about 40 percent of Americans share some of the views of Occupy.

The timing of the Movement is also a bit too convenient to be inclusive of Republicans and Democrats who make up the 99 percent. In 2009, the top one percent took a smaller share of national income than in each of the four years of President Clinton’s second term.

For a political movement to achieve something akin to genuine, lasting, and game-changing success, some semblance of intelligent thought needs to go into its creation, and needs to fuel its operation. But for the recitation of tired class-warfare slogans, the Occupy movement has given serious people no reason to believe that it possesses any special insights into the socioeconomic system, and has provided no workable answers to the pressings challenges of the day. It really doesn’t get any lamer than this.

It is a testament to the weakness of the Occupy movement–and that of its allies–that the port side is now engaged in an effort to dramatically curb speech rights (as the above excerpt notes). Indeed, constitutional rights of all sorts are under assault. Stephen Bainbridge points out that Democrats in Congress are trying to leave corporations with no constitutional protections whatsoever. Now, to be sure, the constitutional amendment that would perpetrate this abomination has even less chance of passing than does an amendment that would overturn pro-abortion rights rulings by the Supreme Court, or one that makes mandatory a balanced budget. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is something fundamentally loony and obscene about telling Americans who wish to incorporate for business and organizational purposes that they will lose in a collective the constitutional protections that they enjoy individually.

But hey, at least this provides us with what the kids call “a teachable moment.” Next time you hear someone spout off on how important it is to safeguard our freedoms under the Constitution, but who says that corporations can do without constitutional protections, you will know that they aren’t being serious about wanting to preserve the liberties to which we have become accustomed.

  • occupier jon

    So I just happende to come across this and find it to be so idiotic, and from a single sided close minded mind state I felt the need to say something. Do you get paid to talk shit or re you just a hater in general. And first of all the occupy movement is not sided what every you want to think we ask all to join so tht our ideas can flow together and we can come up with real solutions. All I see you doing is bitching. Try doing something productive

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      It figures that a fan of the Occupy movement would write something so unbelievably incoherent.

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