By: Paul Bentz
Backed by union interests, celebrities, and others, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is starting to spread across the United States and into other countries. Like the tea party movement started three years ago, the occupy effort is the embodiment of the dissatisfaction among a group of people – the root of which continues to be the failed economy.
While the tea party took aim at taxes and regulations, this new movement’s enemy is identified as the banks, corporations and the wealthy. Republicans are now faced with a challenge that the Democrats faced in the tea party if the occupy movement is unchallenged the movement and the dissatisfaction will continue to grow and could be a major force in the 2012 elections.
Leading up to the 2010 cycle, the Democrats largely ignored and discounted the tea party movement. They disregarded the groups as angry and tried to wrongly characterize their membership as racist. The Democrats dismissed the tea party until it was too late. Republicans who dismiss the occupy movement in a similar fashion do so at their own risk.
The challenge, however, is in the messaging. Currently, the paradigm is that disagreeing with the occupy movement is to be on the side of the corporations and the banks. Republicans run the risk of continuing the stereotype of being the “party of the rich.”
Just disagreeing with the occupy movement is not going to be enough. Herman Cain’s calling the protestors “jealous” will not work either.
Similar to the “repeal and replace” messaging on Obamacare, Republicans must offer solutions of their own instead of just voicing their opposition. Class warfare can be divisive and powerful – without a strategy, Republicans face being on the losing side of the argument.
First, Republicans must admit that there is a problem. Many have being saying for years now that too much has been done for Wall Street and not enough is being done for Main Street. Banks used the bailouts to improve their bottom lines and did very little to get capital back into the marketplace. Lending is sluggish, businesses are not expanding, and people are holding on to their money. The single biggest investment most people will make in their lifetime is underwater and the GOP’s response to date has been to say “too bad.” That is not a winning answer. The government and Wall Street created the bubble; it’s beyond time to help most Americans out.
What Republicans should be saying: “I understand why people across the country are upset from the tea party folks to the occupy movement to people sitting at home trying to pay their bills, the economy is bad and the government did the wrong thing by rewarding those who helped cause this problem.”
Second, Republicans should accept some of the blame and take a page from fellow Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive playbook and admit that greater regulation is needed. We know that “regulation” is a bad word and will not be popular in all constituencies, but the simple fact is that the banks and Wall Street brokerages gambled, with taxpayer money, at the discount window and when it all went belly up, they went to the Government to bail them out of the taxpayer’s own investment. Loosening of regulations at Fannie and Freddy only perpetuated the problem. It is the responsibility of lawmakers to put regulations in place to make sure that this never happens again.
Republicans should be saying: “I support limited government, but there are certain things that must be regulated. We should have put this on our agenda two years ago and failed to do so. We must put reasonable regulation in place to make sure that these types of bailouts and outright greed never happen again.”
Finally, Republicans need to reach out to small businesses and small business owners. The occupy movement seeks to lump Republicans and Wall Street together. Republicans should choose instead to allow the movement to drive them closer to Main Street. Small businesses are the backbone of the United States economy. Business owners understand that class warfare doesn’t pay the bills or put products on their shelves. The occupy movement doesn’t speak to these business owners – so Republicans should.
Republicans should be saying: “I support the small business owners who are the real job creators. Entrepreneurs are working hard to feed their families and keep paying their employees – they don’t have time to protest or make witty signs. Our focus is to create an environment in which small businesses can succeed and be rewarded for their hard work.”
The fact is, Republicans had a chance to own this issue two years ago and didn’t. They could have used the tea party frustration to push for Wall Street reform and stop this problem before it started. Now, the lack of action has become a rallying cry for a disillusioned mass looking to replace the “hope” of 2008 with something that will sustain their coalition for 2012. Republicans must harness this energy into proper channels or risk being run over by the anger of the electorate and the occupy agenda.