There are progressive millionaires available to run! What’s more, OWS – or at least, the issues that propel it – are vastly more popular than the Tea Party that gestated Cain and gave Joe his soapbox. A New York Times/CBS poll out Wednesday found that while only 24% of those polled describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party, 43% said they “generally agree” with the view of OWS. And when asked about the views themselves (not in the context of OWS), Americans expressed opinions that would have them hooted off a GOP debate stage: 65% want to increase taxes on millionaires and 66% believe that “the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among more people.”
Conservatives might claim that the OWS movement hasn’t generated a candidate because they already have one: Obama. But it was the Obama administration that oversaw many of the policies that have brought so many people out of their heavily mortgaged homes and into the streets.
I think the appeal of these outsider candidates on the right has to do with what’s at the heart of conservatism: resistance to change. For all their carping about the tax code (and Cain’s truly, genuinely radical proposal to replace it), GOP voters believe that what’s wrong with America right now is who’s running it, not the system of governance itself.
Daron Shaw, a political science professor at the University of Texas, says that among outsider candidates issues “are important but only symbolically”. According to Shaw, policy points like the budget or the tax code become important only when an outsider can “can claim them as symbols of either corruption or competence”.
Cain’s appeal is fundamentally one of competence; he ran a successful business, he can run the country! And he points to the tax code’s eleventy kajillion words (he hasn’t seemed to settle on an exact count) as a representation of redundancy and complexity, not as a policy that is inherently unjust. That’s what his plan is for.
Occupy Wall Street has, in Shaw’s parlance, a corruption claim, and as such, resists being embodied by a single individual or policy … even as it gains energy every time authorities try to crack down on it. See: Oakland.
It may be impossible for Obama – or anyone running for office, politician or not – to capitalise on that energy. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to go to waste. As Shaw puts it, “When governments fall, they tend to fall not because of a new set of issues, but because … parties come along whose central claim is that they’re not part of the established order.” Third parties in American history have been unsuccessful – but they’ve also mostly been formed around a single person. Talk about catering to the 1%.
OWS doesn’t need a leader to become a persistent presence (it might fail specifically because it appoints one), it just needs even more followers. It doesn’t need a celebrity Joe, just more regular ones.
by Anne Marie Cox – Guardian UK