Obama, 99% Movement Echo Each Other, Change Frame Of Economic Debate

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When the words generally accepted to describe a problem change, the perception of that problem changes. This past week we saw that President Obama has accepted and is using some of the same words used by Occupy Wall Street protesters to describe the nation’s economic problems. In return, the protesters are quoting his words. It’s an important development because the way an issue is talked about, or “framed,” often determines the outcome of the debate.

The national economic debate used to be dominated by language such as “deficit reduction” and “protecting job creators.” Talking about raising taxes on the rich brought the immediate rebuttal of “class warfare.”

That changed this fall with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It has forced the national debate to also include the terms “income inequality,” and “corporate welfare.” Taxing the rich isn’t summarily dismissed, because it benefits the “99%.”

When language resonates with people (as “no new taxes” has for so long), it generally works. This past week, as activists from all over the country converged on Washington, DC, to “take back the capitol,” they consistently framed the message in the language of Occupy Wall Street.

The night before the rally, President Obama used that language in his “New Square Deal” speech he delivered in Kansas. He gave it his own twist, saying “Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. ”

The next day on the streets of Washington, protesters were quoting President Obama saying our democracy is being sold to the highest bidder.

Protesters fear for children’s future when democracy is sold to highest bidder.

“I have such a revolting feeling, I’m nauseated sometimes when I just think about it. What is happening to this country which I was so enthusiastic about when you liberated Germany.” said Ingrid, a German immigrant. “I am speechless at what is happening. That this can happen in our, in this America,” she said as she wiped away a tear. “I have three children. They are all Americans, and two grandchildren. And I’m demonstrating for them and for their future also.”

As seen in this video, President Obama and the Washington protesters also echo each when talking about the deep responsibility we have to our children and how the ideology of tax cuts, particularly for the rich, doesn’t work.

The main difference between the two is in talking about corporations. While protesters are quick to paint with broad brushes and talk about “corporate greed,” President Obama’s recent speech on income inequality never once used the word “corporate” or “corporations” and mentioned “greed” only once — saying that it was caused by “a few.” Instead, the President talked about “businesses” and cast them in a mostly positive light.

Related: Full Video of President Obama’s “New Square Deal” speech

Portions of video by Tracey Pollock

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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