In my view the quickest way to explain the relationship between Occupy Wall Street and electoral politics is that OWS is above the electoral, but it impacts it.
So how did this work in practice during the 2012 presidential election? To start, here is how JA Myerson described the “Zuccotti specter haunting the 2012 election.”
Specifically, Occupy Wall Street did an uncanny job of setting the stage for Mitt Romney’s disastrous campaign. Here in a candidate is the 1% distilled–so rich he doesn’t have anything productive to do with his money, palpably out of touch, indefinitely power-hungry, saturated with contempt for the less fortunate, privileged from birth, possessed of an outward appearance bordering on the clip art for “Straight White Man,” and having only managed to accumulate his hundreds of millions of dollars through mere theft and parasitism. The anti-Romney ads virtually—and, owing to the candidate’s penchant for belching comically patrician sentiments on camera, sometimes precisely–write themselves.
The degree to which Mitt Romney seems to just ooze the very essence of the 1% is pretty remarkable. And it can take you aback to remember how recently it was that this class-based distinction from the 99% of us first gained prominence.
Because of this dynamic Rick Salutin argued that Barack Obama even owes Occupy protesters a debt of gratitude for how we empowered the president to “make full, effective use of Romney.”
But none of it would have worked, had Republicans not nominated the embodiment of Mr. One Per Cent, Mitt Romney. He likes firing people. He thinks 47 per cent of Americans are irresponsible takers. He parks his money abroad and won’t release his tax returns. All he lacks is a top hat and he surely has one in one of his homes. But the attacks, in turn, wouldn’t have taken, had Occupy not already poured the mould for Romney with its “1 per cent” trope.Romney does seem like a candidate tailor made to run in the immediately post Occupy environment, where so many had become so recently chastened to our society's reverence towards rich people. As Clay Shirky depicted on Twitter:
The impact of this transition seems plenty pronounced when watching Karl Rove blame their entire election loss on the newly negative associations with the rich, going so far as to equate the castigation Romney received in this regard to voter suppression.
Thinking back on a year of #OWS, one of the movement's biggest effects was altering reflexive respect for the rich in the US.— Clay Shirky (@cshirky) September 21, 2012
“But the president succeeded by suppressing the vote, by saying to people, ‘you may not like who I am and I know you can’t bring yourself to vote for me, but I’m going to paint this other guy as simply a rich guy who only cares about himself.’ 53% in the exit polls said that on election day that Mitt Romney’s policies would only help the rich, and they voted for Obama by a 9 to 1 margin.”Indeed, Mitt Romney turned out to be the “perfect candidate to run a populist campaign against”, and because of that, “a living symbol of plutocracy was defeated by the voters on November 6.”
And regardless of what you think of the electoral outcome of Barack Obama's victory, from a cultural standpoint, the flat out rejection of the man who became the living symbol of the 1% is a great victory for the 99% at large.