By BJ Bjornson
I noted a little over a week ago that the Republicans have every incentive to deliberately sabotage the economy in order to improve their own election prospects. Such an idea is hardly new or original, but I did note that at least some part of the conversation was beginning to change.
There are some glimmers of hope, such as the recent headlines linked above. And though it may be more about early campaign rhetoric than anything else, the fact that the Democrats looked poised to force further votes on popular job-creating bills to make the Republicans finally face some heat for their obstruction is definitely the right track to take.
I don�t know how much Occupy Wall Street can take the credit for possibly stiffening some Democratic spines in this continuing battle, or in helping put the focus on jobs rather than the deficit, but I do agree with John Cole�s point some time back that this is the way the Overton Window gets moved. Properly focused, it may just get the incentives of elected officials back into line.
This morning, I read this post by Greg Sargent which notes that the Obama campaign has began making the same kinds of noises about the Republicans efforts to stall the economy, and what it might mean.
As you know, Obama�s newly aggressive populism and (gasp) partisan rhetoric has sparked a good deal of handwringing and complaining from centrist columists (see Brooks, David) and leading GOP officials (see Ryan, Paul), who have been arguing that the new approach is somehow out of bounds or that it risks alienating the middle of the country. Axelrod�s amplification of the charge that the GOP may be tanking the economy on purpose suggests the Obama campaign isn�t taking these objections too seriously.
Indeed, it�s worth asking whether we�re seeing a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Obama team and some Dems � a basic recognition that the old rules don�t apply anymore, that the unprecedented tactics being employed by the opposition require a new kind of response. As Dana Milbank notes, you can see the evidence of this in the unapologetic populism driving Elizabeth Warren�s Senate candidacy, which suggests that �Democrats will no longer play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their opponents disembowel them.�
But this may be about something broader than just a new approach to Republicans. The Occupy Wall Street protests; our political conversation�s intense new focus on inequality and economic justice; and the extraordinary levels of voter anxiety and dissatisafaction with our institutions all seem to suggest that the political landscape is shifting in ways we can�t really appreciate yet. It looks like the Obama campaign is placing its bet on what kind of political response these big changes are demanding.
On that last sentence, there will no doubt be many pixels spilled on how Obama is making a cynical play for votes and that once re-elected he�ll turn around and kowtow to the financial giants once more. And the truth is that they�ll probably be proven entirely right should the Occupy movement fizzle and fade back into the background.
One of the biggest lessons of the last few years is that holding elected officials accountable goes beyond just the ballot box. Say what you will about the legitimacy of the Tea Partiers calling themselves a grassroots movement, their storming of town hall meetings during the ACA debate helped solidify the Republican opposition and strengthen the Blue Dogs' hands in the continuing negotiations. (If you want to understand some of the anger directed towards the �firebaggers� and �professional left�, I�d start by looking at their almost universal lack of effective pushback during that period, instead focusing on attacking the President while the battle was being waged in Congress.)
Note as well the massive protests and recall efforts that accompanied anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, and similar efforts in Ohio and other states, which I would argue were precursors to the Occupy movement, even though they remained quite localized.
Make no mistake, while the wealthy control the media for the most part, a sustained effort by the rest of the population can at the very least change what�s being talked about, from deficits and the confidence fairy to jobs and accountability for those who tanked the economy. And it can boost the arguments of those who are willing to put those issues front and centre and expose those who really don�t care much about them.
Will any real change come as a result? Who knows, there are still some pretty powerful forces opposed to such, and their pockets are deep. All I can say is that without such sustained action, the powers that be will quickly steer the conversation back to their preferred narratives of how they have to cut away the safety net and stop regulating companies that poison our air, water and food to pay for tax cuts.