OK

Occupy Day 28
From the streets ... (David Shankbone)
[My grandfather's generation] understood they were part of something larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share -- the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement. The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  

—President Obama, 2012 State of the Union Address

State of the Union
... to the halls of Congress

Regarding the question in my title, my answer is yes. Let me present you with evidence. Consider President Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address delivered on the heels of the devastating landslide loss to the Republicans in the 2010 election, in particular this line:

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again. [...] That's the project the American people want us to work on. Together.

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans' paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year. [Emphasis supplied]

You'll excuse me for thinking that was one of the low points of the Obama presidency. Celebrating the capitulation to the Republicans in extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich as an example of "working together" to grow the economy was, I hope, the nadir of the Obama presidency. A "the era of big government is over" moment.

To be clear, the president had spent the year arguing for lowering the deficit (more on that later) by repealing (or more correctly, letting them expire) the Bush tax cuts for the rich. His "narrative" changed as a reaction to the loss in the 2010 elections. But what was clear was that, at the time of the 2011 State of the Union, the state of the political narrative in the nation was in a terrible place—Austerity Now! and succor to the "job creators" was the order of the day. Consider the president's policy proposals in his 2011 State of the Union address:

When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test. That's why instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money." Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.

Race To The Top! Ugh. More:

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let's agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.

Yay! Border security! Ugh. And the piece de resistance—Austerity!:

[T]he final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt. We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people's pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. (Applause.) Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we've frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.

There is a nod to lowering "tax expenditures" (provisions in the tax code that exempt certain activities from normal tax code application):

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it -- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.

On income inequality, here is what the president said in his 2011 State of the Union speech:

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success.

That's it. A stray paragraph in a 45-minute speech. And even that paragraph was weak tea, wrapped in the clothing of reducing the deficit.

It seems safe to say that income inequality was not a theme for the Obama administration in 2011. Deficit reduction, "reforming" entitlement programs and "Austerity!" were. And the coverage of the speech reflected that. But in 2012? Let's review Tuesday's State of the Union speech on the flip:

The 2012  State of the Union address was remarkably different from the 2011 version. Consider the opening substantive passage, after the litany of accomplishments (killed Osama bin Laden, etc.):

[My grandfather's generation] understood they were part of something larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share -- the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement. The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

The defining issue of our time! He's right. It is. But something happened to make that the centerpiece of his election year State of the Union address. That something was, without question, the Occupy Movement. As late as August 2011, President Obama was still fixated on Austerity and "entitlement reform."

On July 21, 2011, the New York Times reported:

President Obama and the Republican House speaker, John A. Boehner, once again struggled against resistance from their respective parties on Thursday as they tried to shape a sweeping deficit-reduction agreement that could avert a government default in less than two weeks. Congressional and administration officials said that the two men, who had abandoned earlier talks toward a deal when leaks provoked Republicans’ protests, were closing in on a package calling for as much as $3 trillion in savings from substantial spending cuts and future revenue produced by a tax code overhaul. If it could be sold to Congress, the plan could clear the way for a vote to increase the federal debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline.

Occupy has changed all of this. It is manifested even in the Republican presidential primary, where figures like Rick Perry have been echoing the call of Occupy, denouncing "vulture capitalism," and where Newt Gingrich said:

Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money?" Newt Gingrich asked Monday. "I do draw a distinction between looting a company, leaving behind broken families and broken neighborhoods and then leaving a factory that should be there."

President Obama's 2012 State of the Union address makes clear that the seminal issue Occupy has argued for—income inequality and the 99 percent versus the 1 percent—will be the major theme of the 2012 election. Here is how the New York Times reported on the president's State of the Union address:

President Obama used his election-year State of the Union address on Jan. 24 to argue that it is government’s role to promote a prosperous and equitable society, drawing a stark contrast between the parties in a time of deep economic uncertainty.

Mr. Obama asserted that government should work to better balance the scale between the rich and the rest of America — changing the tax code and other policies if Congress would go along, and making the most of his executive powers if Congress would not. People earning more than a million dollars a year should pay an effective tax rate of at least 30 percent and should not receive tax deductions for housing, health care, retirement and child care, he declared.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Mr. Obama said, “or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

In this era of Citizens United, the Occupy movement reminds us that "people power" still can work. However this all turns out, that lesson alone makes Occupy a worthy endeavor.

Some may read this post as an indictment of President Obama. It is not intended as such. Indeed, if anything, it is indictment of ourselves—for relying solely on politicians to do the right thing for us. Back in December 2007, I wrote something that I trot out periodically and do so again now—pols are pols and do what they do:

As citizens and activists, our allegiances have to be to the issues we believe in. I am a partisan Democrat it is true. But the reason I am is because I know who we can pressure to do the right thing some of the times. Republicans aren't them. But that does not mean we accept the failings of our Democrats. There is nothing more important that we can do, as citizens, activists or bloggers than fight to pressure DEMOCRATS to do the right thing on OUR issues.

And this is true in every context I think. Be it pressing the Speaker or the Senate majority leader, or the new hope running for President. There is nothing more important we can do. Nothing. It's more important BY FAR than "fighting" for your favorite pol because your favorite pol will ALWAYS, I mean ALWAYS, disappoint you.

In the middle of primary fights, citizens, activists and bloggers like to think their guy or woman is different. They are going to change the way politics works. They are going to not disappoint. In short, they are not going to be pols. That is, in a word, idiotic.

Yes, they are all pols. And they do what they do. Do not fight for pols. Fight for the issues you care about. That often means fighting for a pol of course. But remember, you are fighting for the issues. Not the pols.

Occupy has done this. And the results are there to be seen. Kudos.

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