A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that 2/3s of Americans now believe that there are real conflicts between the rich and poor in this country (click on chart for larger image) and that such economic conflict now represents the greatest source of tension in the United States.
What struck me when I read about this report in the New York Times was that majorities in every demographic group that was polled--young and old, black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated--clearly think that the kind of economic inequality that we have in the United States represents a serious problem. Even 55% of conservatives believe this to be the case.
The report, I believe, shows that Occupy Wall Street protests last fall clearly have changed the political discourse in this country in ways that are extremely positive for a progressive agenda. In this sense, even if Occupy Wall Street disappears completely from the political landscape in this country, the movement has already succeeded in focusing public attention on its central issue--income inequality in the United States. And, even more importantly, it has succeeded in getting just about everyone to recognize that this kind of inequality represents a serious problem for the long-term viability of our country.
The real question now is: what comes next? Public opinion on the issue of income inequality had shifted but won't mean anything if this doesn't translate into some kind of concrete legislative agenda that restores the economic balance in this country into something more favorable for working American families.
Fortunately, President Obama, who in the past has proven willing to sell out the interests of the poor and middle class in this country to appease conservatives in Congress, seems to have finally realized that a little old fashioned class warfare of the type employed by Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt might actually prove to be good politics right now. He also appears to understand that Americans want to see their President fight on their behalf rather than constantly working in the interests of multinational corporations and banks.
I don't image that anyone as testicularly challenged as Barack Obama can remain in populist mode very long. It's just not in his temperament, I'm afraid, to rail against the "malefactors of great wealth." But, if he does manage to squeak out a victory this fall, he will owe his success almost completely to the hard work of Occupy Wall Street activists.