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Protests Pick Up Steam; Will Obama Get Burned?

It's not clear yet whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will be a good thing or a bad thing for Democrats. That's why President Obama always treads carefully when asked about them.

Protesters gather at Frank Ogawa Plaza on October 26, 2011 in Oakland, California.
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Above: Protesters gather at Frank Ogawa Plaza on October 26, 2011 in Oakland, California.

"People are frustrated, and that frustration has expressed itself in a lot of different ways," he said Tuesday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "It expressed itself in the Tea Party. It's expressing itself in Occupy Wall Street."

Polls show there is broad support for the sentiment behind Occupy Wall Street, with almost half agreeing with the protesters' views about income inequality and corporate greed.

But the protesters have yet to turn their frustrations into clear-cut goals.

"I really am into social change, and I want to see some changes in our country. Just kind of a changing in how, you know, the way society is structured," says Sarah MacAdams, who's been occupying downtown Washington at an encampment two blocks north of the White House.

The Power Of A 'Populist Revolt'

Obama describes the protests as a left-wing Tea Party, but that's far from clear.

"At this point, we're staying away from political actions and really focusing on building awareness," protester Ashley Lowe says.

Unlike the Tea Party, which was willing to walk precincts and field candidates in a successful effort to push the Republican Party to the right, Occupy Wall Street doesn't want to get involved in electoral politics — at least not yet. Even so, former Clinton White House aide Bill Galston says he thinks the protests represent a force Democrats should try to harness.

"We're having a populist revolt now because the people who soared off into the economic stratosphere during the past two decades did not discharge their responsibilities to the broader society," Galston says. "And I think President Obama has everything to gain and nothing to lose by articulating that basic truth."

But another centrist Democrat, Matt Bennett of the group Third Way, isn't so sure.

"When political parties get close to angry populist movements, bad things tend to happen — it certainly has happened to Democrats before," he says. "So we're a little bit worried about how Democrats can embrace some of the themes of the Occupy Wall Street folks without really embracing the movement itself."

Bennett wants to avoid having Democrats tied to the excesses of the fringe of the Occupy Wall Street protests — the way the party was tied for decades to the excesses of the anti-war movement.

Republicans see that opportunity. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has called Occupy Wall Street "growing mobs." Talk show hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have made similar charges.

"The violent left is coming to our streets — all of our streets — to smash, to tear down, to kill, to bankrupt, to destroy," Beck said recently.

"This is Obama's protest to counter the Tea Party," Limbaugh said. "They're jealous! The Democrats are so jealous of [the] Tea Party they can't see straight."

A Tough Balancing Act

If Occupy Wall Street had an agenda, it might be able to bring grass-roots energy to the Democrats the way the Tea Party did for the GOP.

But first, Obama would have to win the movement back. He told Leno that if people feel they're getting a fair shake, "then people won't be occupying the streets, because they'll have a job, and they'll feel like they're able to get ahead.

"But right now, they're frustrated. And part of my job over the next year is to make sure that if they're not seeing it out of Congress at minimum, they're seeing out of their president somebody who is going to be fighting for them," he said.

On Wednesday, the president took on one of the demonstrators' issues, announcing that some student loans can be refinanced sooner than originally planned. That should appeal to the young saddled with mountains of college debt and no jobs.

But when it comes to Wall Street, the balancing act for Obama hasn't been easy. He's oscillated between bashing Wall Street and accommodating it.

"The most successful Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, managed to channel populist energy and anger without pandering to it or succumbing to it politically," Galston says. "And that is the challenge for a leader like Barack Obama."

Comments

Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | October 27, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I don't think OWS has to worry about being seen as a fringe element until it's accussed of being a fringe element by persons other than Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. As the Republicans are discovering, defending corporate greed has a very narrow constituency.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 27, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Ms. Liasson, with all do respect, inserting Glenn Beck quotes in your article is about as serious as finding Occupy Wallstreet quotes from a talking parrot (actually the parrot would likely have more coherent, intelligent things to say than the uneducated Beck).

Beck attempted to go to college and flunked out.

Is that REALLY someone you want to hear lecture you on socio-political and economic issues of the day?

And look at his quote:

"The violent left is coming to our streets — all of our streets — to smash, to tear down, to kill, to bankrupt, to destroy," Beck said recently.

Really?

Seriously?

People without weapons and not acting out in violence are being pepper-sprayed and harassed by police, and the college dropout Beck things the protesters are violent?

For Pete's sake we just had someone's skull fractured by overzealous police thugs in Oakland, but because the college dropout Beck says it's the protesters who are violent, I guess all the mindless sheep who follow this college dropout believe his idiocy.

Bottom line is that Occupy Protesters are not really overjoyed with any politician right now, including Mr. Obama.

However, when you look at the fundamental issue of transferring the vast majority of our nation's wealth and power to the 1% super rich minority at the expense of the poor and middle-class, Republicans have a far more radical and extremist agenda.

Obama is a capitalist, but he is a reasonable capitalist.

He understands that capitalism can only flourish when our nation has social safety nets in place to help us through capitalism's weaknesses.

The Republicans, on the other hand, want to dismantle these safety nets.

Can you imagine if Republicans would have had their way with "privatizing" social security several years ago before the then unknown impending economic downturn?

If the Republicans had their way, the economic downturn would have been much worse as seniors saw their ss go down the toilet with the stock markets.

Bottom line is that most protesters are smart enough to realize pretty much all politicians in the United States have corporate links, but when it comes to extremism in this regards, the Republicans are the culprits, so the protests I think ultimately help Obama.

They also hurt college dropout right-wing windbags like Beck and Limbaugh (yup, Limbaugh is also a college dropout just like Beck) who have been declaring for years that a "majority of Americans" support Republican policy.

Every day these college dropouts throw around the term "majority of Americans" in an intellectually dishonest effort to strengthen their right-wing ideas.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 27, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

College dropouts like Beck and Limbaugh are scared.

They are scared because the country can see now that the MAJORITY OF AMERICANS are not crusty old Republican bigot millionaires like Limnbaugh and Beck, they are reasonable people who see far more potential and prosperity in a nation with a thriving middle class as opposed to one of a tiny super-rich ruling elite.

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Avatar for user 'Percent99'

Percent99 | October 27, 2011 at 10:55 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I'm part of the 99% and I'm tired of being ignored. Found this website that's selling bands and trying to get every supporter to wear one. Sort of hokey, but I checked and they're made here and they're supporting a good cause. www.takebackwallstreetnow.com

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