It looks like both sides have now laid their bets in Massachusetts on the true signficance of Occupy Wall Street, on the direction of the public mood, and on what resurgent populism really will mean for the political atmosphere next year.
In an interview with WCVB-TV in Boston, Elizabeth Warren was asked to respond to the Rove-founded Crossroads GPS ad linking her to Occupy Wall Street. Though she disavowed violence, she directly aligned her candidacy and her own history of fighting Wall Street with the spirit and general critique driving the protests:
INTERVIEWER: Is it fair or not fair for them to link you so closely with Occupy Wall Street?
WARREN: It’s fair to say that I’ve been protesting Wall Street for years and years. I went to Washington in part to try to stop the bank bailout from giving away money, no strings attached. I’ve gone toe to toe with some of the CEOs of the largest Wall Street financial firms. I’ve even [fought] with people in our government about how they treat the biggest firms. So, yeah, I’ve been fighting Wall Street for a very long time.
INTERVIEWER: So these are your people?
WARREN: I’m glad to see lots of people start to really push on this issue. Let’s face it: Something’s badly broken in America right now. We’ve got a middle class that has been hammered financially for a generation. And we’ve got a Washington that works only for those who can hire an army of lobbyists and an army of lawyers. And that means it’s not working for the rest of us. So, yeah, I protest that. I’ve been worried about that. I’ve been working on that for a very long time.
INTERVIEWER: So their mission, their philosophy, their tactics, you all agree with?
WARREN: Let’s be clear. Everybody has to follow the law. There’s no exception on that. More important, though, this is an independent, organic movement. It’s its own voice. It will go in its own direction. We don’t speak with a unitary voice anywhere about what needs to be changed. There are lots of people, lots of voices — whether they’ve taken to the streets, whether they’re sitting at home saying, `this doesn’t work anymore.’
We need a lot of voices saying, we’ve got to have change. Because it’s clear: Washington’s not looking to change on its own. And Wall Street is going to keep pumping money into Washington, pumping it into elections, to make sure that their way is the dominant way in this country. I think that’s wrong.
Note that Warren is refusing to engage the argument the way the right has framed it — as an all or nothing choice between embracing everything about the protests, or repudiating them. Warren and her campaign probably recognize the political danger of getting drawn into debating that false choice.
Instead, she’s keeping the focus on the larger critique of inequality and excessive Wall Street influence embodied by the protests, and directing the conversation towards the broader public’s rising anxiety about these pernicious problems.
The big investment on this new ad from Crossroads GPS suggests that this line of attack is only getting started. Warren will be the number one national target when it comes to conservative efforts to use the protests to discredit Democrats and their (very modest) efforts to combat inequality. But she seems to be betting that the blue collar whites and independents she needs will see past such efforts and won’t be distracted by them from the larger message embodied by resurgent populism and her candidacy. In other words: Not backing down.