THE BLOG

Hillary and Occupy America

06/19/2015 08:15 am ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

The Hillary launch speech was a reminder of how history repeats itself. Repeatedly, American fringe movements raise new issues, become mainstream and America changes. Fredrick Douglas and John Brown created a narrative that Abraham Lincoln turned into an end to slavery. Betty Friedan affronted mainstream sensibilities and now everyone works to empower women. Eugene Victor Debs ran for President as a Socialist demanding economic justice. Twelve years later FDR began the New Deal.

Hillary's speech was was of that mold. She became the populist candidate of economic equality: "Republicans trip over themselves promising lower taxes for the wealthy and fewer rules for the biggest corporations without any regard on how that will make income inequality worse; The top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of America's kindergarten teachers combined, often paying a lower tax rate."

Love it or hate it, she seized the mantle of economic justice, and she's not alone. Republicans like Romney, Bush, Pand Paul and even Ted Cruz are joining in. "The top 1% earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928," says the Tea Party firebrand.

It will be the defining issue of the 2016 campaign.

But who to thank? That's easy. Why it's our old friend, Occupy Wall Street. It gave voice to the percolating notion that " a rich few have subjugated the poor many." as Forbes Magazine put it. It created a genius slogan the "1%-ers". It survived the worst that Wall Street could throw: "half-naked demonstrators, ranting anti-Semites, Kanye West or anyone else who has helped make Occupy Wall Street a target for easy ridicule."

So, in the great tradition of John Brown, Betty Friedan and Eugene Victor Debs, Hillary picked up the flag of Occupy Wall Street.

Is the "Occupy America" a shrewd move or will it fall flat? The answer to that is fairly clear. Americans of all ideologies and parties know that the interests of the 1 percent have won out over the interests of everyone else, and they want something done.

The harder question is what can a president do? Lincoln fought a war and amended the Constitution. Feminists had the Equal Rights Amendment and gender discrimination laws. Roosevelt had the 8 hour day, Social Security, and the New Deal program agenda. What's Hillary got?

Not yet clear. Paid family leave and universal pre-K are fine things, but without a revamping of the tax code, and a re-sharing of the national wealth, we have slogans and no program. A little patience may be required as she eventually provides specifics. But it will come.

Can Hillary actually reform the economic conditions that we all live under? It's a fair, and unanswered question. That she's even heading in this direction is a testament to a movement that redefined our politics, and then disappeared.

Don't hold your breath waiting for Hillary to thank or even acknowledge Occupy Wall Street. It's just not done, and it's not even necessary. Wherever the several hundred Occupiers are now situated, it will be enough to know that they took action in a great American tradition of social protest, they were heard, and the judgment of the people is that they were right. So let me. Thank you, Occupy Wall Street.