Occupy the White House?

As the year draws to a close, the GOP race is just getting started. Herman Cain saw his campaign ended by one too many sex scandals, while Newt Gingrich has begun an unexpected climb in the polls. With primaries beginning in early January, there is only a matter of time before the Republican Party selects its champion. With many right wing voters displeased with the moderate tendencies of front runner and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, maintaining a strong conservative stance may be a GOP candidate’s best friend. With all of this in mind, one blaring stumbling block presents itself to campaign planners across the board: How do you address Occupy Wall Street?

With protests going on strong across the nation for nearly four months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has garnered plenty of national media attention. Raising issues of economic inequality, corporate greed and corruption, and unfair tax legislation, the Occupy protesters are not shy about getting their message heard. The question is, how will all of this figure into the 2012 elections? Will the movement even survive? “It would have been nice for the Occupy Wall Street guys if the election was a little sooner, as they might lose some of their momentum by 2012,” said Ryan Warsing, “but hopefully they’ll use their time to get their message together.” A political science major at William and Mary, Warsing worked as a part of Virginia Delegate Robin Abbott’s November campaign. Regardless of where the movement ends up in November, with primaries approaching in less than a month, questions will need to be answered.

Already GOP candidates have been making their voices heard. Newt Gingrich did not mince words when addressing the protests, first taking a subtle jab by evoking a quote from Captain John Smith in 1607, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Gingrich then went on to address the movement directly, referring to the protesters sarcastically as “the paragons of virtue, to which we owe everything.” He then summarily rounded out his statement by stating that they should all get jobs, but only after taking a bath. Newt is joined by Michelle Bachmann in the group of candidates dismissing the group as an uninformed, passing fad. However, not all Republican hopefuls feel the same way. Speaking yesterday in Concord, New Hampshire, Texas Republican Ron Paul called the protests, “A very healthy movement.” Then, in an obvious jab at Gingrich, Paul stated, “I’m not likely to be the one to say, ‘Why don’t you get a bath, and go get a job, and quit crybabying?’ I don’t like that at all.” Obviously, the issue has created a fissure within the GOP race, but what of the other side?

There is no debating that OWS is a left-leaning movement, so how will Obama react? “My initial reaction is that Obama will offer full support of the movement if the numbers support him doing so.” said Greg Pavlot. An employee of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Pavlot has expressed the sentiment feared by many right-leaning strategists. A backing from the President would ally the incumbent with a young, politically active group of voters looking for a face to mark their movement. While it is too early yet to tell, Obama seems to be aligning himself in the groups favor. In a speech given today in Osawatomie, Kansas, the President worked some very Occupy-friendly statistics into his rhetoric, stating “In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up more than 250% to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average is now $27 million per year.” By bringing up similar statistical data, and making use of OWS terminology, Obama seems poised to potentially make a run at gaining the group’s favor. The possibility of an Obama-OWS alliance has not gone unnoticed by the right wing.

In a report compiled for the American Bankers Association, big time Washington lobbyists Clark, Lytle, Geduldig, and Cranford discussed a comprehensive strategy to bring down the Occupy Wall Street movement before it becomes a powerful political tool for the Democratic party. The strategic report, priced at $850,000, calls for focus polls in key battleground states, investigation into who is funding the movement and why, and an intense monitoring of social media to track the protest’s movements. “If we can show they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent,” the report states, “it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.” This report alone proves that whether they openly state it or not, Republicans are keenly aware of Occupy Wall Street and the potential impact it could hold in 2012.

While election day still stands the better part of a year in the future, campaign politics are in full swing. As GOP candidates and Obama alike prepare for the long trail ahead, the OWS movements continue to fill streets across the nation. While the full impact these protests will have next November is yet to be seen, Obama’s recent Wall Street bashing and the ABA’s courting of anti-OWS lobbyists prove that the Occupy Wall Street will be certain to leave its mark on the 2012 race.


Ron Paul on Foreign Aid: Get the facts straight

“Foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country, and giving it to rich people in poor countries.” These words, met with applause, were spoken by Ron Paul at the televised CNN Las Vegas GOP debate. As with most hot-button political issues, Ron Paul minces no words making his opinions known, and sticks firmly to his guns. However, the Doctor’s prognosis on Foreign Aid could really use some further examination.

Most specifically, the first part of Paul’s statement raises some flags. Foreign aid draws funding directly from federal taxes, meaning it is paid in full by tax dollars of American citizens. Looking first at the federal income tax, there’s little reason to believe that “poor people” have had any money taken from them in the funding of foreign aid. As a progressive tax, the federal income tax’s rate of taxation is based on the total annual income per household, and the lowest economic quintile pays no net total into it. The only taxes paid by the citizens of the lowest economic status that could in any way be used to pay for foreign aid are the federal corporate and excise taxes, and even the rates on these have ranged from less than 1% to a little over 2% in the last ten years. Taking into account the fact that these minuscule tax rates are being enacted on the lowest median annual incomes in the country, and the fact that foreign aid has only been afforded a little over 1% of the federal budget in recent years, Ron Paul’s claims about taking money from the poor have practically no standing.

This may seem like a minor subject to nitpick. Paul’s stance isn’t in question, as he has clearly stated that he would equally cut federal aid across the board, so in comparison, this minor detail may seem to be insignificant. However, I feel that it is important to consider the gravity of the situation. This statement was made at a nationally televised debate among a small group of politicians vying to represent the Republican party in the upcoming Presidential race. Slip ups are one thing, but premeditated statements based on little to no factual standing do not bode well for presidential hopefuls.

Ron Paul and the Importance of Straw Polls

Presidential straw polls offer a localized litmus test of the future 2012 elections, but they are what you make of them. Turnout can range from hundreds of voters in the smaller polls to nearly 17,000 in this years Ames straw poll. How the media interprets these polls and their victors plays a major role in the public perception of the upcoming GOP race.

In a recent blog article written by columnist Chris Kaergard  for the Journal Star website, Ron Paul’s recent victory of the November 5th Illinois straw poll came under heavy scrutiny. Kaergard argued first and foremost that the voter turnout of 3,649 votes was “a statistically insignificant blip in a state of Illinois’ size.” To argue that straw poll is insignificant because of its voter turnout in relation to state population makes almost no sense. When you take a poll that focuses strictly on one party (in Obama’s home state, no less), charges voters a fee per vote, and takes place in the pre-primary season, in no way should anyone expect a voter turnout to be anywhere near comparable to the state population. Even with that being said, it should be noted that with 3,649 votes, this straw poll drew more voters in than those held in California, Ohio, and most significantly Florida. How is it that Cain’s upset victory in Florida garnered press as an important political surge, while Paul’s win in Illinois is dismissed as insignificant?

Additionally, Kaergard scrutinizes the voter’s utilization of online balloting. He’s quick to point out that three quarters of those voting in the poll used online voting, and that two thirds of those people voted for Paul, but to what avail? Kaergard’s claims that online voting delegitimizes this “near-farce of a straw poll” have very little grounding. Just because voters will have to take time out of their day to physically turn out to the voting booths on election day doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t and wouldn’t take advantage of the convenience of online voting when presented to them. A vote is a vote, regardless of how it is cast.

In another head-scratching argument, Kaergard attempts to tear down the significance of Paul’s victory stating (without any source citation), “It can’t hurt that his campaign sent reminder emails to supporters, making it still easier for them to take part.” If political organization and voter mobilization are against the rules of straw polls, nobody informed me. To argue a poll’s legitimacy because one candidate went to the trouble of sending out automated emails to voters is shaky at best. In my opinion, the fact that Paul’s supporters were able to organize enough voters for him to carry this poll bodes well for the GOP candidate. All of Kaergard’s claims about online voter turnout vs. physical voter turnout and campaign e-mails serve to distract from the main point: Ron Paul won the poll.

I’m not saying that Chris Kaergard wrote a factually incorrect article by any means, but the bias is undeniable. By playing up highly insignificant factoids and statistics surrounding the election, Kaergard attempts to lure the reader into his highly slanted perspective.

Ron Paul and Gun Lobbyists

There are certain polarizing issues in American politics which carry enough weight to define both who supports a candidate and what end of the political spectrum said candidate will likely fall in to. Gun control is undoubtedly one of these hot-button issues. GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul wastes no time making his position clear. According to his website, Paul strongly supports the full protection of 2nd Amendment rights, stating that as President, he would fight to maintain our “God-given right to keep and bear arms.”

With any contentious political issue comes a slew of lobby groups, both for and against the topic. These groups focus their time, money, and organizational efforts towards persuading political candidates to support their views anywhere from local level all the way up to presidential politics. As the new media age dawns, lobby groups are taking advantage of new technology to spread their views in a broader and more efficient way than ever before through the use of official websites, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media avenues. Additionally, lobby groups are finding the Internet a useful avenue with which to publicly publish their official “grades” and endorsements given to candidates across the board.

The strongly pro-gun lobby group, Gun Owners of America make their support for Dr. Paul perfectly clear. The group’s homepage proudly boasts a quote from the GOP hopeful in the top-right hand corner of the page. Calling them “The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington” clearly won Paul the full support of the group, and if this obvious homage is not enough, the group also awarded Paul the official “Defender of the 2nd Amendment” award after giving a speech in Des Moines in August. Strong connections between candidates and lobby groups brings not only monetary campaign contributions, but votes.

Conversely, the Brady Campaign, a well-known gun control advocacy group, shows far less favor towards Ron Paul. The organization, named after Jim Brady, a former press secretary under Reagan who was paralyzed by a gun wound during an assassination attempt on the President, argues the need for stricter gun regulations including more stringent background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and a limit on the number of firearms allowed to be purchased at one time. The group’s lack of support for Ron Paul’s campaign can clearly be gleamed from the measly 18% of 100 rating given to the Texas republican in an annual report. Worth noting, the Gun Owners of America gave Paul an A+ rating.

Despite the night and day differences in ideology between these two lobby groups, both hold one thing in common: the use of social media. Both official websites for the groups have links to Twitter on their respective homepages, with the Brady Campaign supplying a link via an RSS feed and the Gun Owners of America displaying a Twitter “t” button on the right hand side of their page. However, the utilization of this media tool differs strongly between the two groups.

The Brady Campaign, under the username @bradybuzz, actively tweets relevant news articles and editorials, as well as retweeting personal anecdotes and stories of gun violence affecting their followers. The group’s Twitter is pretty active, posting multiple tweets daily as well as responding to direct tweets from followers. Conversely, the Gun Owners of America take a vastly different approach.

Under the username @gunowners, the group’s Twitter also posts news articles and topical stories relating to pro-gun propaganda, but one glaring difference stands out. The group follows 0 Twitter accounts. Unlike the Brady Campaign’s tactic of community involvement with following, retweeting, and responding to supporters, the Gun Owners of America’s Twitter feed contains only posts from the group. Additionally, the tweets posted are more few and far between than their pro-gun control counterparts, with noticeable gaps of several days or even weeks between tweets at times.

While one could argue that a pro-gun group such as the GOA may have an older, less technologically-savvy constituency, the group’s Twitter actually has more followers than that of the Brady Campaign. Such a lack of community engagement is a complete waste of Twitter as a platform. By refusing to follow anybody not only does the group look closed-minded, but they lose out on opportunities to engage directly with supporters. The Brady Campaign uses its followers as an excuse to both diversify and empower their message, with a mixture of relevant news-related tweets, retweets, and direct tweets to their supporters. This makes the lobby group appear more personable and willing to dialogue with the common people, in contrast to the GOA’s inefficient and shielded system. A whopping 129 tweets to the Brady Campaign’s 2,772 also doesn’t help.

With the 2012 election season in full swing, lobby groups like these play a crucial role in shaping the campaigns and their eventual outcomes. The use of social media in electoral politics can no longer be avoided, whether by candidates or lobby groups. Learning to utilize the tools of social media correctly can have a strong impact on public perception. Whether we like it or not, these new forms of media are here to stay.

Partisanship in Local Politics

With the 2012 Presidential race unfolding, party lines are more clear than ever. Candidates label their stances on key hot-button partisan issues such as healthcare, taxes, abortion, gun laws, and immigration reform. Where a certain candidate stands on these crucial issues defines their partisan status in the national game of politics, and understandably so. National politics means representation of a constituency on a massive, state or nationwide scale. The question is: Do party lines mean as much to representative candidates in local politics?

The answer is not a simple one. “It depends,” said Albert Pollard “It depends on the person, and it depends on the district.” The Democratic representative of Virginia’s 99th district from 2000-2005, and then from 2008 through the present day, Albert Pollard knows very well the game of local politics. Representing the rural “Northern Neck” of Virginia, Pollard asserts that party lines may not be as important in his district as others. “Voters tend to care more about your thought process,” said Pollard “It’s more of a question of ‘Does he have good judgement?’ than ‘Where does he stand on taxes, guns, and abortion?'” With a smaller constituency, local politicians in these rural districts have a greater opportunity to communicate directly with their constituents, making them more than just a face on a TV screen. They become a voice grounded in the local community. Pollard stands as a clear example of this strategy. Utilizing social media, Pollard provides a direct glimpse of the man behind the suit. With witty humor and anecdotal stories of his children, the representative further endears himself to a constituency which already heavily favors him. Pollard is favored so much so, that despite formally announcing his choice not to seek reelection in 2012, a pollster still told Pollard his chances of winning were very high.

This small town appeal does not necessarily work across the board. “In suburban and urban areas,” said Pollard “it’s more about guns, abortion, and taxes.” The pattern points to the population of the district. With smaller, less populated rural districts, representatives have a greater opportunity to connect directly with their constituents. Conversely, more populated urban or suburban districts may not foster the same opportunities for representatives to make themselves known on a more personal level. Either way, local politics and local politicians provide a different perspective to choosing an electoral candidate. They allow voters to look past the standard partisan issues, and get to know their representatives as people.

Occupy Wallstreet: An American Protest

As autumn begins to set in, the Big Apple is in a state of unrest. Since the 17th of September, protesters have entrenched themselves in Zucotti Park, in order to hold protests at the nearby Wall Street. The movement, dubbed “Occupy Wall Street”, has garnered national media attention, as hundreds of protesters hold daily marches throughout the city. Picketing under various demands and complaints, the resounding sentiment among the group is clear: they want change.
The question is: how easily a group defined as being lead by “the every-day people participating the occupation”1 bring about such change? To discuss the structural, social, and political aspects of this movement, I sat down with Dr. Jeff Hass, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Richmond. When asked about Occupy Wall Streets’ lack of overt leadership, Hass remarked, “When it’s something that’s a little more diffused like this, generally your claims will be less developed, blunter, less nuanced. That doesn’t mean that the emotions are less genuine.” It is this lack of developed claims and clear-cut demands which has brought media skepticism of the movement. “The protest began with no slated goals, no public speakers, and many of the most most ridiculous attendees you could imagine – Socialists, Code Pinkers, anarchists, and more,” said Fox News’ Dan Gainor. In his editorial, Gainor criticizes the movement’s practices and constituency, but even he recognizes the legitimacy of their concerns, stating “These protests do reflect the genuine economic fear that many American’s feel.”2 While the group may not be as well organized as other protests, Occupy Wall Street as a movement represents, according to Hass, “genuine anger against the current state of affairs.” The professor asserts that the group’s disorganized presence can be explained by the current state of American politics.
“The US just doesn’t have a developed left,” said Hass, “It’s hard to be a leftist in the US. You have this ‘American Dream’, and along with it comes a refusal to see things in terms of structure.” The force propelling this state of severe power unbalance, Hass argues, can be derived from our economic tendencies. “Capitalism has drawn us down this path,” claimed the Professor. Our nation’s economy has favored the propagation of class dominance by the power elite. In addition to the exploitation of capitalism, our nation’s cultural stigma against the economic doctrine of socialism has effectively solidified the status of the power elite. “[Socialism] can work in Europe, where you have socialist or labor parties that can win at least some form of representation,” said Hass, adding, “The state is not as much the enemy in Europe as it is in the US.” The idea is not a complete socialist socioeconomic overhaul, but rather a greater allowance for labor-friendly politics to permeate into the national political scene. That way, argued Hass, the US could create a state which could “balance off the power elite.”
The notion of the US government seeking to check the power of the power elite is not unheard of. Dr. Hass argues that the government has the ability to limit corporate power at any time, stating “If Congress decides it’s time to change the rules of the game, they can pass laws that will increase tax rates, redistribute wealth, and give unions a shot in the arm.” This scenario usually unfolds, according to Hass, “in moments where the evils of unfettered markets are becoming clear; where a progressive movement can emerge.” Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting tactics, and FDR’s expansion of the welfare state come to mind. “It is in these moments”, Hass declared, “that the state can come in and redress the inequalities and contradictions of capitalism.” The professor maintains, however, that this principle goes both ways, acknowledging that “It was the state in the 80’s under Reagan that unleashed what had been the tamed power of the corporate elite.” The very base of this issue can be found in money. “It’s true that the government can affect change,” said Hass, “but the question is: Do you have politicians who are willing and able to do so, who have support? It costs money to run a campaign, where is that money coming from?” Campaign financing, while always a hot button issue, is especially relevant during this years election. In January of 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to reverse the 20 year old ban on campaign donations from corporations and labor unions, a move which President Obama said “has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics.”3 With the potency of corporate political influence on the upswing, there is no telling how far this reactionary protest will go.
The culmination of the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to have come in a timely manner. The 2012 election season is in full swing, and the economy continues to sit in a state of disarray. All signs point toward the justification and legitimacy of this protest movement, but Hass warns that results won’t happen overnight. “You have to be in it for the long haul,” he said, adding “It can take literally decades.” The notion of a loosely organized group of protesters remaining at large for decades seems highly unlikely. What could potentially be done to solidify Occupy Wall Street’s status as a protest movement built to stand the test of time? “It helps when you have a few people at the top who are charismatic,” asserted Hass, “people who can communicate the ideas of the group to the common people.” Leaders like this, according to the Professor “do not just complain, but rather offer alternatives.” Arguably one of the most important jobs tackled by leaders of social movements is the meticulous crafting of the group’s public image and message. “You can take the same message,” Hass said, “and make it seem relevant or irrelevant.” Essentially, rhetoric and public reception go hand in hand. For a historical representation of this concept, Dr. Hass draws on the success of the Civil Rights movement. “Civil Rights could have been about African Americans only,” stated Hass, “but Martin Luther King was very smart in that he made Civil Rights about every person. He wasn’t trying to overturn American society, he was simply citing the Declaration of Independence.” To be fair, leaders of Dr. King’s stature do not just grow on trees, but if the Occupy Wall Street movement wants to maintain its solidarity, a strong leader (or group of leaders) and a well-crafted message are crucial.
To examine Occupy Wall Street properly, one must step back and look at the general perceptions of American protests as a whole. “In the US, taking to the street is seen as a bad and undisciplined kind of thing,” said Hass, “We prefer to exercise our opinions through ‘voting’.” These negative perceptions of American protests go as far back as the demonstrations against the Vietnam war, wherein the youth in action were widely criticized as eccentric and uninformed. However, the same sentiment does not resonate globally. “In Europe, you have a better developed left,” claimed Hass, “and you have left-leaning newspapers that will pay positive attention to strikers.” The prominence of labor power in Europe pays great dividends to the cause of restraining the power elite. “If you have well organized unions, then that’s a counterbalance,” said Hass. In a sense, one can argue that the Occupy Wall Street movement was conceived due to the lack of sufficient labor presence in the US economy to check the power of the economic corporate elite. It’s no wonder then, that the movement plans to rally with over 15 different New York City unions on October 5th to “march to the Financial District, where their pensions have disappeared to, where their healthcare has disappeared to.”4 Occupy Wall Street may not be pretty, but it’s cause appears to be picking up some serious momentum.
The future of Occupy Wall Street is as clear as the protest’s goals itself. “Personally, I think it will make it’s mark, and eventually dispel”, claimed Professor Hass, “but if the economy doesn’t get any better, if politics still appears to be broken, and if the big shots are still getting away with it, this won’t be the last time we see this kind of thing happen. The question is, ‘Where does it go from here?’” How or when this movement will reach its conclusion remains to be seen, but for now the group continues to build momentum and expand with no real end in sight. There has even been an expansion website created to organize the protest movement’s spread to other cities across the nation, with protests in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles already underway.5 Could we be witnessing the beginning of a historical movement, or is Occupy Wall Street just a passing phase? Only time will tell.

The Rons: Reagan and Paul

GOP hopeful Ron Paul made his message very clear in a recent attack ad aimed at current Republican front-runner, Rick Perry.

The ad first emphasizes Paul’s legacy as a supporter of Reagan ideals of small government and low taxes, boasting Paul’s “unpopular” endorsement of Reagan’s Presidential campaign. Next, the commercial takes aim at Governor Rick Perry, specifically for his support of Al Gore’s 1988 bid for the Presidency. Referring to Perry as Al Gore’s “cheerleader”, the ad clearly serves to make Paul out to be the more loyal conservative candidate. However, these assertions have drawn significant criticism.

An official response from Rick Perry’s website points out the fact that Ron Paul actually resigned from the GOP in 1987 during the second term of the Reagan administration. This response alone seems to significantly undermine Paul’s supposed “loyalty” to Reagan and his conservative policy. However, the right wing Christian Science Monitor brings up an interesting counterpoint. The website notes that the actual rhetoric of Paul’s 1987 letter attributes his resignation to an increase in government spending, national debt, and taxes, not specifically mentioning Reagan. The article then posits that the aforementioned justifications of Paul’s resignation could actually serve to build his credibility and consistency, as they are all things he still clearly opposes today. So who’s right and who’s wrong? Only time (and votes) will tell.