For last two months, we’ve been engaged in something of a natural experiment to see if presidential speechifying—in this case, a consistent focus on jobs—is enough to move public opinion in a progressive direction and create avenues for legislative success. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Republicans have taken their usual position of staunch opposition, and moderate Democrats have given them cover by opposing the administration’s modest efforts to raise taxes and offset the costs of new stimulus.
What has changed the direction of public opinion is Occupy Wall Street, so much so that majorities of Americans agree with the goals of the movement, and conservative figures like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are driven to acknowledge America’s extreme inequality.
Of course, even if Occupy Wall Street grows in size and influence, there’s still the question of institutional barriers. As long as a political incentive for the filibuster exists, for example, there’s a real limit to the policy influence of a movement like Occupy Wall Street. Ideally, we’d have an Occupy the Senate Rules Committee, or something similar, where progressive activists galvanized public opinion against the filibuster, elected politicians who opposed the filibuster, pressed Senate Democrats to change as many anti-majoritarian rules as possible.