How (Not?) to Campaign Against OWS

BoingBoing linked to an MSNBC piece on a recent strategy memo sent to the American Bankers Association* by a profesional lobbying firm, Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford. The memo itself is a fascinating read on several counts. First, CLGC attempt to play to bankers’ fears and thus help reveal some of them:

“It shouldn’t be surprising that the Democratic Party or even President Obama’s re-election team would campaign against Wall Steet in this cycle. However the bigger concern should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies – and might start running against them too.”

Right now, and for the past 20 or so years, we have had two pro-big business, and especially pro-big finance parties. My co-author Russ Funk and I are revising a historical paper on the fight led by the ABA against Glass-Steagall in the 1990s. One fascinating tidbit from that story is that even though Glass-Steagall was only repealed after two decades of lobbying, the final bill passed by an overwhelming majority (e.g. 90-8 in the Senate). If 90 Senators were going to vote for it, why did it take so long to pass? The answer is that in the 1980s, the investment banks held it up (through the Securities Industry Association), and in the late 1990s, the insurance companies held it up. After all three groups finally settled on what they wanted out of the repeal, the final bill sailed through. In the 1990s, we had two parties, but both were overwhelmingly pro-financial deregulation once finance told in a unified voice how they wanted it done.

The 2000s, in spite of Dodd-Frank, have not seen much of a retreat from that. As the ABA lobbyist quoted by MSNBC notes, Obama receives more money from Wall St. than anyone. Dodd-Frank had some great bits in it, most of which haven’t been enforced. No one was willing to go to bat to make the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau have teeth, for example. That’s why Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate instead of stopping banks from creating misleading products as a regulator.

The memo also notes the resonances between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: both groups absolutely hated TARP and the bank bailout. Much of the anti-TARP anger from the Tea Party was redirected towards Obamacare and other Democratic initiatives, but it might be possible for an anti-Wall Street candidate to bring in some of those votes from both sides.

The report gets a bit sillier when it comes to deliverables, however. (The whole language of deliverables, as well as the specifics are also fascinating from the standpoint of thinking about how corporations lobby politicians and the public. This is what corporate political strategy looks like, even if this particular campaign doesn’t happen.) Specifically, CLGC suggest an investigation into the funding sources behind OWS, and the ideologies of its leaders. Good luck finding them! It’s possible that a few figures will emerge that could be identified as leaders by the media or negative campaign ads – people like David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist who was somewhat influential in the planning stages of the initial occupation. But thus far, the movement has done a fantastic job of preventing the creation of a unified face or voice. Also, it really doesn’t seem like they have much in the way of financing – maybe George Soros donated some books and pizzas, but I doubt digging will reveal the kind of Koch-brothers/Fox News network of backers that the Tea Partiers enjoyed. As much as CLGC recognizes OWS as a well-organized threat – or at least, wants Wall St. to recognize them as a threat – they still conflate them with a typical, 21st-century, astro-turfy movement. I don’t think the strategy will work but the memo makes it very clear what such a campaign would look like:

“The research will also identify opportunities to construct fact-based negative narratives of the OWS for high impact media placement to expose the backers behind this movement.”

CLGC, embrace constructivism! If you want elite, liberal backers for OWS, you’re going to have to make them yourself. But, I trust your “fact-based negative narratives” will be aimed at just doing that. Just own it.

* A trade group for big banks.



  1. My Google+ feed is awash with that one.

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