Wow, this is going to be good: Occupy Wall Street is now officially an issue in what may be the highest-profile and most polarizing Senate race in the country.
National Republicans are now attacking Elizabeth Warren for embracing the protests, seeking to make a liability out of the fact that Warren, a longtime critic of Wall Street excess, has now aligned herself with the movement’s intellectual underpinnings. What this means: The conservative effort to turn blue collar whites and independents against the protesters and their broader populist message — exploiting a traditional cultural fault line in our politics — will now unfold in the context of a high profile political campaign.
Warren was asked by the Daily Beast for a comment on the protests. She said: “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do. I support what they do.”
Now the NRSC has opened fire on Warren for the comments, blasting out an email containing links to stories about protesters in Massachusetts battling with cops. Said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh: “Warren’s decision to not only embrace, but take credit for this movement is notable considering the Boston Police Department was recently forced to arrest at least 141 of her Occupy acolytes in Boston the other day after they threatened to tie up traffic downtown and refused to abide by their protest permit limits.”
The NRSC is also circulating that Doug Schoen Op ed painting protesters as wild-eyed extremists and arguing that Dems who embrace the protests risk driving away independents and moderates, even though it was subsequently proven that Schoen’s conclusions were not supported by his own data.
In other words, national Republicans are placing their bet. They are wagering that the cultural instincts of the working class whites and independents who will decide this race ensure that the excesses of the protesters will make them less inclined to listen to her populist economic message, which is also directed at those voters. This is an old story in American politics, of course. Conservatives have for decades been mining the tension between blue collar whites and liberal middle class activists who resort to outsized protest tactics and occasional violence. That’s why you hear conservatives constantly referring hopefully to today’s protesters as “McGovernites.”
Warren, by contrast, is making the opposite bet. By unabashedly embracing the protests, she is placing a wager on the true mood of the country right now. She’s gambling that these voters will look past the theatrics of these protests; that they will see that she and the protesters are the ones who actually have their economic interests at heart; and that they will ultimately side with Warren’s and Occupy Wall Street’s general critique of the current system and explanation for what’s gone wrong in this country.
The early polling returns suggest that there’s no evidence that ordinary working-class and middle-class voters are being alienated by the protests. It still remains to be seen where public opinion will end up on the movement and whether there’s really any hope of tying it to a broader working class constituency.
This race was already shaping up as a referendum on whether unabashed left wing populism can win back these voters — and on whether left wing populism in general is seeing a genuine and durable resurgence. If Occupy Wall Street becomes a major flashpoint in the race, the argument will get a whole lot more combustible.