* Whose side is the GOP on, yours or Wall Street’s? With Occupy Wall Street snowballing, it’s looking increasingly like that question will be at the center of the Obama/Dem message in 2012. Republicans plan to build their campaign around the question Ronald Reagan famously posed — are you better off now than you were four years ago? If the answer to that question is “No,” as Obama himself has admitted, Obama and Dems are increasingly embracing a sharp populist argument that directly faults Wall Street for that state of affairs, unabashedly positions Wall Street as the antagonist, and charges that the GOP is Wall Street’s number one enabler.
Obama is set to take his jobs tour to North Carolina and Virginia this week, and the early word is that he may align himself with Occupy Wall Street a bit more directly than he has in the past. At a minimum, he seems likely to reiterate his identification with the frustration of protestors in a high profile campaign-style setting — and to link that frustration to his demand that Congress act to alleviate mass economic suffering.
This comes after White House adviser David Plouffe spelled out plans to draw a sharp contrast in 2012 by arguing: “I’m pretty confident 12 months from now, as people make the decision about who to go vote for, the gut check is going to be about, ‘Who would make decisions more about helping my life than Wall Street?’” The challenge for Dems: To manage the delicate balancing act of embracing the protests while acknowledging that some of the anger is directed at, well, them and their own coziness with Wall Street.
Only six months ago, Dems seemed unlikely to embrace such a starkly populist message. Indeed, one reason many on the left embraced the Wisconsin fight was that labor and Dems were adopting a bare-knuckled message about inequality and GOP fealty to corporations and the rich that seemed a bit too hot for the national party. But then came Obama’s post-debt-ceiling-debacle jobs push; Warren Buffett’s tax crusade; Elizabeth Warren’s Senate candidacy; the protests themselves; and the right-wing “class warfare” backlash to all of these things. The result: A distinct shift in the national conversation, with unforeseen consequences for 2012.
* Dem allies continue populist offensive against GOP: Relatedly, the House Majority PAC, which is raising and spending to elect Dems to Congress, is going up with a new six figure buy targeting four House GOPers for aiding and abetting tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.
The spot targeting GOP Rep Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, which slams him for claiming he’s “struggling” on a $174,000 salary while cutting taxes for “Wall Street,” is only the latest sign that the White House, Dems and their outside allies are reading from the same populist script as the Occupy Wall Street protests grow.
* Can Obama hold on in the south? With Obama heading to North Carolina and Virginia, Aaron Blake aptly notes that for all the attention paid to Rust Belt states, Obama’s reelection hopes will also turn on his ability to hold on to Southern states, such as those, where he notched suprising wins in 2008.
Key footnote: While Obama is at serious risk of losing those states, they haven’t deserted him quite yet, and the question is whether his aggressive jobs push will turn his fortunes in increasingly hostile territory.
* Mitt Romney’s unexplored vulnerability: With Dems embracing a strategy of leveraging anger at Wall Street, Steve Benen points out that Romney’s background, in addition to his opposition to Wall Street reform, makes him a particularly ripe target for this kind of approach:
He not only wants to lift any measure of accountability for the financial industry, he’s also from that industry — Romney got very wealthy heading up a vulture capitalist fund, which made money by breaking up companies and firing their American workers.
As I’ve been saying, there’s an added dimension to this: Because of his income from investments, Romney pays a lower tax rate than middle class taxpayers, rendering him a rather imperfect messenger for criticism of Obama's push for the “Buffett Rule,” which would undo an unfair tax code that personally benefits him. Fair taxation is expected to be central to Campaign 2012.
* Elizabeth Warren’s “informed and measured populism”: The Times perfectly captures the source of Elizabeth Warren’s appeal: She’s found a voice that makes the populist critique of income inequality and excessive corporate influence accessible to a wide swath of the public, and she has articulated an effective antidote to the right’s anti-government demagoguery.
* Occupy Wall Street and wealth inequality, made simple: Nick Kristof likens Occupy Wall Street to “America’s primal scream,” and explains that the movement is all about these factoides:
¶ The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
¶ The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
¶ In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.
* Coinage of the day: Courtesy of a reader of Paul Krugman’s blog: “Kvetch-ocracy,” i.e., Wall Streeters cauterwauling over the fact that a movement is growing around a perfectly accurate diagnosis of Wall Street’s role in tanking our economy and our politics.
* Olympia Snowe, “moderate” Republican: I’m late to this, but Jamison Foser had a nice post on Snowe, her faux “moderation,” and her vote against the jobs bill, which put her on the side of one-tenth of one percent of her constituents against the remaining 99.9 percent of them.
* The incredible shrinking Tea Party, ctd: Colin Woodard does a deep dive into America’s geographic and cultural fault lines to explain why the Tea Party’s influence is melting away as fast as news orgs showed up to lavish coverage on the “movement’s early scattershot gatherings.
* Let’s set the record straight on the CLASS act: Jonathan Cohn debunks all the conservative chortling by pointing out that its cancellation actually strengthens the case for the health reform law, and particularly for the hated individual mandate.
* And let’s set the record straight on the media and Obama: Keach Hagey debunks the widespread conservative claim that the political media has been soft on Obama. Complete with actual data and empirical evidence!
What else is happening?