The Political Implications of Occupy Wall Street

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I don’t believe that sleeping in a park for six weeks straight equals a protest. That aside, I do understand the anger and frustration of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I hope it leads to a broader discussion during next year’s presidential election.

The likely republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has a different outlook on fiscal matters in comparison to President Obama. New York Magazine pointed out in a recent cover story called “Mitt Romney and the 1% Economy” that Romney, a former CEO, can sympathize with the target of the protesters. President Obama never made any money until the sale of his two books helped pay off his student loans – well into his 40’s.

I am not sure if the Occupy Wall Street movement will be a political factor next year. But I think the discussion about its sentiment should be, if Barack Obama wants to win a second term.

To do this, of course, the President must appeal to his base – young people, minorities, union members, etc. He will also need to work very hard to keep the swath of independents who put him in the White House. Many voters feel like the President has not worked hard enough to fix the mess George W. Bush left him. In a recent poll, his approval rating here in New York is in around 45%. By contrast, he won the state with over 60%.

In order to make sure the protesters are not a problem for him next year, Mr. Obama needs to do a better job of empathizing, while at the same time trying to better convey his successes on issues they care about. The President passed Wall Street reform and the Consumer Protection Act, which, he said “represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history.” He needs to do a better job of touting reforms like these.

Those inside the Washington Beltway are familiar with these successes. Those of us on the Belt Parkway may not be as familiar.

We have jobs to do, children to take care of, and bills to pay. That’s why these Occupy Wall Street protesters are relevant to us. They have been camped out in Zuccotti Park since mid-September. Most of us do not have the desire – let alone the time or the energy to do what they are doing to make a point, but we can appreciate their theme.
The goal of any protest is to build momentum and gain support for a cause, not necessarily to change the minds of the people it is targeting. In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 47% said the movement is reflective of the views of most Americans. The President should build on that momentum and be the progressive candidate we saw in 2008.

He needs to reaffirm the pledge he made on election night in Chicago, when he spoke directly to those whose votes he did not receive.

“I may not have won your vote,” the new president-elect said, “but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too.” The protesters downtown and around the country don’t believe that he has followed through. And the 1% never thought he was going to honor that declaration. To win, he will need to convince a majority of us again that he hears our voices and can be our President too.