Will the Mitt/Newt Slugfest Boost the Occupy Movement?
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The Occupy Movement brought key issues like economic inequality, Wall Street greed, and political corruption to the table. And we may have the GOP front runners to thank for keeping them there. Here’s a look at how the Battle of Newt and Mitt can help keep the OWS flame alive...
The Populist Platform
Newt Gingrich’s populist messages in South Carolina dealt Mitt Romney a body blow. Newt hit the multi-millionaire on his low tax rate and his role in the oft-reviled private equity industry to leave him stumbling through debate questions and looking generally ill at ease. Getting branded as a corporate raider who pays less in taxes than your housecleaner is not a great image, to say the least.
Newt leveled three sets of charges at his rival on economic issues, all of which resonate with core Occupy Wall Street concerns. The first two were key in the South Carolina primary, and the third may be important in the next phase as Newt attempts to draw Ron Paul supporters into his camp. They are:
1) Taxes (OWS concern = economic inequality)
2) Private equity (OWS concern = Wall Street predation, ruthless capitalism, senseless job destruction)
3) Federal Reserve (OWS concern = power of big banks over government)
Each of these issues, of course, is viewed through somewhat different lenses by left and right-leaning populists. For Occupiers, questions about the Federal Reserve, for example, tend to call up issues of the banking industry’s influence on government at the expense of the ordinary Americans. For many Tea Partiers, a greater concern is 1) the relationship between the Fed’s activity and the government deficit and 2) the desire of some to abandon fiat money in favor of a return to the gold standard. Newt signaled his stance in Saturday night’s victory speech:
“Dr. Ron Paul, who on the issue of money and the Federal Reserve, has been right for 25 years. While I disagree with him on many other things, there’s no doubt that a lot of his critique of inflation, of flat money into the federal reserve is absolutely right, in the right direction, and its something I can support strongly.”
However Newt spins them, all three issues are likely to produce robust discussions that highlight and educate the public on matters that OWS would like to have at the center of national economic debate. OWS and Tea Partiers often agree that the Fed should be more transparent and that it’s structure is problematic, so even if Newt comes at the issue from the perspective of right-wing populism, there are enough intersections that OWS can celebrate the discussion.
The tax and private equity issues have brought a flood of commentary throughout the media, such as a recentNew York Times piece by Floyd Norris questioning the fact that investment income is now taxed at a lower rate than earned income—a debate driven by Mitt’s admission that he pays a mere 15 percent in taxes. Norris demonstrated that this discrepancy has not historically been the case and also why it is unfair . Thanks to the attacks on Mitt, Americans have been talking about “vulture capitalism” (Newt’s term for private equity) and the ruthless policies and game-rigging financial engineering it is known for. Of course, this produced an entirely predictable chorus of “Shame on Newt” from financiers and their apologists, succinctly captured by Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal, who whined on Fox News: “This is what our capitalist system is about!”
Truly, Occupiers could not have hoped for better media coverage of their grievances.