Occupy Wall Street

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, October 11, 2011


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) matters much more for that it does not do than for what it does. Unlike the Tea Party Movement, a much better organized and politically relevant conservative revolt that has become a major player in the Republican Party, OWS will help the Democrats present themselves as the moderate party and will provide President Obama with an opportunity to show that he can equally distance himself from radicals on the left and the right.


Though it has captured growing media attention, has underlined a growing dissatisfaction with the economic situation among left-of-centre voters and has reminded President Obama that he will also face criticism from those who think he has done too little to stimulate the economy, OWS will not affect Democratic Party Politics nor will it force Obama to move to the left. The diffuse movement, with an excessively diverse and often incoherent set of demands, policy proposals and objectives has grown rapidly — which might also anticipate an equally hasty decline — and has been understandably seen as a left-wing response to the already established political influence of the conservative Tea Party Movement. However, even though OWS members are equally enthusiastic and resolute as the Tea Partiers, and probably as inclined to accept dogmatic and rigid views on the underlying causes of the economic distress in America (but from the opposite viewpoint), their political power will likely remain limited and so will their capacity to influence Democratic Party Politics.


There are good reasons to compare OWS with the Tea Party. Both movements emerged as social reactions to political decisions triggered by economic developments. Spurred by the growing fiscal deficit and the government rescue of the financial industry in 2008, the Tea Party brought together people — including some Republican politicians — who seized the opportunity to represent demands for smaller government. The Tea Party channeled its effort and energy into the Republican Party and, by unseating moderate Republican elected officials in primaries, made their voice and influence relevant in the rightwing party. Many Republicans know that the Tea Party scares away moderate voters. Yet, the active involvement of Tea Partiers in the Republican Party makes it difficult — if not impossible — for Republican politicians to ignore that influential voting bloc. Thus, while it might be true that it is very difficult for a Republican to win a national election embracing the views of the Tea Party, it is practically impossible to win a Republican primary without a strong endorsement of Tea Party ideas.


OWS does not have the same political aims — if it has any — as the Tea Party. It is certainly less organized, and is less likely to be organized in the future. There are no huge donors willing to stir the movement into a political power bloc within the Democratic Party. Moreover, as left-wing activists have made it clear in the past, their social movements tend to see the Democratic Party as too centrist to even bother to seek to conquer and take over it. OWS is far less political ambitious than the Tea Party. There will not be an Occupy Wall Street version of a Michelle Bachmann or Ron Paul challenging Obama for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. If such a maverick were to emerge, it would be a nuisance to the President’s path to secure the party’s nomination, but Obama might even welcome the opportunity to confirm his position as a moderate, pragmatic and centrist politician.


Moreover, even if OWS soon declines, President Obama might still use it to distinguish himself, and his party, from his opponent in 2012. Whenever there is a strong and growing extremist group brewing within the party, moderate leaders have an exceptional opportunity to present themselves as decisive leaders who can stand against radicals in their own groups. When Democrats had a majority in the House, President Obama played that moderate card by distancing himself from then Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. Only when the radicals grow too strong and can capture the party, influencing its policies and dragging it to the extremes, moderates should show concern about those purist activists who denounce and oppose compromise.


OWS has been accused of being manipulated by the enemies of capitalism. Republican presidential candidates have labeled them as advocates of class warfare and un-American. Republican hopefuls are missing the point. They should see the OWS as an opportunity and adopt the same strategy President Obama is likely to adopt. Republican hopefuls should attempt to present the nation as divided between those on the extreme right and those on the extreme left and swiftly run to the centre and adopt moderate positions. After all, moderation is the word that best defines the American electorate — though not primary voters. President Obama and Democrats will seize the opportunity to help OWS survive for weeks and hopefully months to then firmly position themselves as centrist and moderates. Republicans should do the same with the movement that has occupied the Republican Party since immediately after the 2008 election.