Saturday, October 15, 2011

Obama, Romney, Occupy Wall Street, and Election 2012

I will resist the temptation to provide commentary and analysis that equates "Occupy Wall Street" with the "Tea Part Movement"; such analysis has been provided by other pundits, so further analysis would be overkill.  But the movement that started September 17--not too far from my apartment, btw--could morph into a key component of Obama's reelection strategy and, therefore, become a key element of the "Race for the White House, 2012."

On Friday, the WaPo carried an article discussing how Obama is poised to use the anger of those "99%"--a ridiculous and grotesquely inaccurate "Occupy Wall Street" slogan--to court critics of Romney and Repub policies. It should be noted, though, that protestors have an interesting way of selecting history to suit their ideological agenda; the policies that the protestors are criticizing were supported not just by the business interests and the Repubs but also by the Democrats and Obama, particularly the team of economic advisors that Obama assembled shortly after taking office.  So, these protestors should be quick to acknowledge the undeniable facts of history and resist being co-opted by Obama.

Back to the article.  Obama has intensified his rhetoric in recent weeks, targeting Bank of America, by name, for imposing a new $5 monthly fee on their debit cards.  Obama is walking a thin line: he is targeting a company, the largest US bank by assets, that continues to be destabilized by mounting losses from collateralized debt obligations--and other so-called "exotic financial instruments."  By targeting BofA, Obama is both dealing a public relations blow to the financial firm and also trying to court ideologically committed leftists.  While the critical line was fairly mild ("exactly the sort of stuff that folks are frustrated by") it is still the type of shallow political rhetoric that does more economic harm than good.

An Obama senior advisor, David Plouffe, was quoted in the article as saying that "One of the main elements of contrast will be that the president passed Wall Street reform and our opponent and the other party want to repeal it."  It is a wise contrast and one that, depending on the level of anti-bank hysteria, could be profound enough to challenge the Repub nominee.

It is a fairly old dichotomy that has worked well, at least rhetorically speaking: Wall Street is represented by the Repubs and Main Street and labor are supported by the Dems.  Obama is pulling on the coalescing anti-Wall Street hysteria by presenting himself, even before the Repubs have their nominee, as the candidate best suited to challenge the excesses of the financial firms, as embodied by Wall Street.  The Obama campaign will be layered with floury rhetoric about the Repub nominee and the policies he (or she) supports.

Romney brilliantly responded to the anti-Wall Street movement by honing in on the anger of middle-income Americans.  If Obama will present himself as labor's savior, then no doubt Romney will position himself as the savior of middle-income America.  Romney's point--politically motivated, of course--is a somber truth: for most Americans, wages have either declined or stagnated since the early 70s and the collapse of Bretton Woods.  Middle-income America is slowly eroding under the heavy burden of rising prices (slowly rising, to be sure) and mounting debt.  It is a near universal message that holds particularly true for America.

Conservative Repubs, at least in rhetoric and message, have supported reducing the size of government and its regulatory reach.  Romney--or any other candidate--could make "streamlining the regulatory state" a flank of their campaign.

Romney's focus should remain on middle -income America and their frustrations.

BTW: what about Ron Paul's proposal?  Increase focus on the FED and end corporate welfare ... seems profound to me.        

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