A USA Today/Gallup poll published this morning suggests that “most Americans blame Wall Street for the nation's economic predicament — but they blame Washington more.” Furthermore, when specifically asked who they blame most for the poor state of the economy, “64% of Americans name the federal government and 30% say big financial institutions.”
Conservatives have leaped onto findings like these to conclude that the Occupy Wall Street protests are out of step with average Americans and out of alignment with the roots of our economic problems, which they say rest on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Wall Street. Today's Heritage Foundation Morning Bell is thus headlined, “Wall Street Is the Wrong Place to Occupy.”
But the wisdom of the hive that is the Occupy movement is wise, indeed. It is not either Wall Street or Washington. It is Wall Street AND Washington. That's why there is an Occupy DC still going strong near the K Street lobbyists and the government agencies they are trying to influence, and why later today the organizers have invited Lawrence Lessig to speak to them about the corrupting influence of Wall Street on Washington.
Lessig, a Harvard University professor, recently launched an organization called Rootstrikers, an organization that promises to fight back against the “political bribery” by wealthy special interests that has corrupted both political parties.
One of the core problems animating the Occupy movement around the country is the fact that when it comes to Washington, to paraphrase what former Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said last year during the financial reform debate, corporations “own the place.” And they continue to pay big money to make Washington bend to their interests.
Consider what's on the list of the top five lobbyists in Washington. Here's what the Center for Responsive Politics is reporting so far in 2011:
1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce — $31.8 million
2. General Electric — $15.4 million
3. AT&T Inc. — $11.7 million
4. Blue Cross/Blue Shield — $11.1 million
5. Comcast Corporation — $10.7 million
Just the top two of those corporations have spent more money on lobbying so far this year than organized labor did in all of 2010. No wonder the voice of working people is drowned out in the halls of Capitol Hill by the golden microphones and oversized amplifiers of Wall Street lobbyists.
There is another point to remember whenever people say that the ire of the Occupy Wall Street protestors is better directed at Washington. The disenchantment with Washington does not rest solely with people aligned with the small-government ideology of Tea Party activists. As Terry Madonna, a political analyst and polling expert at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., told USA Today, some of the 64% who place primary blame on Washington fault it for too little government regulation, not too much.
Because USA Today has not posted the entire poll, we don't know the exact numbers behind Madonna's assertion. But we've seen that assertion backed up in other polls we've examined as part of our American Majority project.
The Occupy protestors around the country have it exactly right. To be mad at Washington is to be mad at Wall Street—and vice versa. We need to make both our economic system and our political system work for all of the people, not just for the wealthiest 1 percent.