“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death”

After weeks of hearing liberals advise the Occupiers that they must now pivot to supporting Obama’s reelection, I see this:

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Republican Governors Association met this week in Florida to give GOP state executives a chance to rejuvenate, strategize and team-build. But during a plenary session on Wednesday, one question kept coming up: How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

Luntz offered tips on how Republicans could discuss the grievances of the Occupiers, and help the governors better handle all these new questions from constituents about “income inequality” and “paying your fair share.”

What is my favorite part of this story? Is it that Frank Luntz — who knows a thing or two about discursive hegemony, as a friend put it today — is “frightened to death” because OWS is “having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism”? Is it that GOP governors are racking their brains to figure out how they’re supposed to address Occupy Wall Street? Or is it just this clause about “…all these new questions from constituents about ‘income inequality’ and ‘paying your fair share’”?

Let’s take stock of what’s happened here. For twenty or thirty years, Democratic politicians — for their own purposes — have been paying what must amount to billions of dollars by now to consultants, pollsters, and think tank gurus  to tell them how to talk to the public about inequality in some way that might spark sustained public engagement. For twenty or thirty years, they have failed so spectacularly that it’s given rise to a whole subgenre of political commentary, the old “why don’t Americans care about inequality” op-ed grist.

Then the Occupy movement comes along and after two and a half months shifts the national consciousness so palpably that Republican governors are scrambling to ask their Rasputins how capitalism can be defended to their constituents back in Peoria. And the message from so many liberals is: okay, that was nice, but now let’s get back to the real task of hurling Hatfield talking points at the McCoys.

As Peter Frase recently noted in his excellent essay on partisanship and ideology:

If you’re 25 years old, there’s a good chance you haven’t had much or any contact with what remains of an actual “left” in this country; instead, your experience of politics will be one in which “left versus right” is used interchangeably with “Democrats versus Republicans”. In other words, a discourse in which ideology is reduced to an empty, symbolic partisanship.

The occupations have succeeded where the Democratic Party has failed precisely because they have  refused to concede to this unhealthy confusion. Barack Obama is smart enough to know that he’s better off not embracing OWS; his friends are hoping the Occupiers don’t know the reverse is true as well.


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