You probably know who Mark Penn is, but you may not know his business partner Doug Schoen. Together, they run a consulting firm called Penn Schoen Berland that specializes in helping corporations hone their communications strategies. In other words, Doug Schoen literally makes his living carrying water for corporations. But he also makes his living doing polling work for Democrats. And his polls invariably produce results that encourage Democrats to eschew populism and to adopt more corporate-friendly policies.
Schoen sent one of his employees to Zuccotti Park on October 11th and 12th to interview the people occupying Wall Street. In total, they polled less than 200 protesters, and they discovered that the people there are not thrilled with Wall Street, global capitalism, deregulation, and giving tax breaks to enormously wealthy people.
As a result, Schoen advises the Democrats to distance themselves from the movement.
Nothing could be less surprising.
Now, it’s true that the Occupy Wall Street movement could become unpopular at some point in the future. In fact, that’s probably a fair assumption. It happened to the Tea Party, and it’s likely that eventually people will tire of reading about people complaining about Wall Street. Schoen warns that 31% of the protesters would support the use of violence in the furtherance of their aims. Any violence perpetrated by the protesters would accelerate their decline in popularity.
But the reason these people are out in the street is that Congress cannot do anything to address unemployment, yet they had little difficulty saving Wall Street. That’s what makes this so unpersuasive:
Today, having abandoned any effort to work with the congressional super committee to craft a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction, President Obama has thrown in with those who support his desire to tax oil companies and the rich, rather than appeal to independent and self-described moderate swing voters who want smaller government and lower taxes, not additional stimulus or interference in the private sector.
Rather than embracing huge new spending programs and tax increases, plus increasingly radical and potentially violent activists, the Democrats should instead build a bridge to the much more numerous independents and moderates in the center by opposing bailouts and broad-based tax increases.
Put simply, Democrats need to say they are with voters in the middle who want cooperation, conciliation and lower taxes. And they should work particularly hard to contrast their rhetoric with the extremes advocated by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
I really have a lot of contempt for Schoen’s argument here. But rather than rebut him point by point, I just want to focus on two things. First, his argument doesn’t discuss the merits of different policies at all. He’s making a purely political argument that the Democrats will suffer if they continue on the path they’ve chosen. Second, the Democrats have tried postponing tax hikes. They’ve tried to work with the Republicans to craft legislation that might appeal to business-friendly moderates. They’ve made some progress on the margins using this approach. But they hit a stone wall during the debt limit debate, and the Republicans are now simply refusing to do anything about the high unemployment rate. Continuing to ask Republicans to work with them isn’t going to work, and it isn’t going to satisfy anyone regardless of their political orientation.
The problem is the GOP. And, to the degree that the Democrats share the blame, it’s because they have a tendency to take Doug Schoen’s advice.