President Obama’s plummeting approval ratings have made him an unlikely candidate to revive the Left, but Democrats think they’ve found a new savior: the angry and unwashed crowds of the Occupy Wall Street campaign.
The New York Times reported this week that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democrats’ fund-raising organ, is currently circulating a petition that aims to get 100,000 Democratic supporters to sign a pledge that “I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests.” Top Democratic fundraisers, including those close to Obama, are also said to be seeking ways to make common cause with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The thinking seems to be that Occupy Wall Street represents the Left’s emerging answer to the Tea Party. As such, it is exactly the boost the party needs as it heads into an election year led by an unpopular president and backed by an unenthusiastic base.
Overt support for the Occupy Wall Street protests is a risky strategy, however. For one thing, while Democrats may appreciate what the protesters represent, the feeling is not mutual. Though the Occupy Wall Street campaign lacks an organized agenda, its one consistent message has been that the political establishment, including Democrats, is to blame for the country’s grim economic prospects. Indeed, one of their main objections is to the government bailouts for Wall Street that the Obama administration pushed through. If what the protesters really want is a reckoning for those who presided over these taxpayer-funded transfers to hated Wall Street, Democrats and President Obama will have a hard time exploiting the protests for political gain.
Bringing the Occupy Wall Street protesters into the Democratic fold is also problematic because they seem unwilling to play the role that Democrats want them to. That role is primarily in fueling the mild class-warfare rhetoric that is the party’s perennial favorite and which President Obama has trumpeted in recent weeks. This explains why Democrats have tried to present the protesters’ concerns as primarily about economic disparities and, in Obama’s words, a general “frustration” with the economic situation in which only the rich benefit. That rationale may be convenient for Obama’s plans to raise taxes on the upper income brackets, but all evidence suggests that the demands of Occupy Wall Street are far more extreme. What a sizable contingent of them seem to want, if their “abolish capitalism” signs are any indication, is the wholesale elimination of the financial industry and the dismantling of the free market. Whatever else can be said of this radical message, it is not one primed to win over the American public, let alone Democrats’ generous Wall Street donors. Not for nothing was Goldman Sachs the largest contributor to President Obama’s election campaign.
Associating with Occupy Wall Street also links Democrats to their other causes, which are equally extreme. For instance, the Boston extension of the protests, Occupy Boston, held a rally this week in support of one Terak Mehanna, a Muslim pharmacist from the Boston suburbs. Protesters declared that Mehanna was a victim of anti-Muslim bias and formed a “support committee” to aid his cause. But bias is not the reason Mehanna is on trial. According to the U.S. government, Mehanna provided “material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” and acted as a “media wing” for al-Qaeda. Among other charges, Mehanna is alleged to have conspired to attack civilians at a shopping mall, American soldiers overseas, and American government officials. Mehanna’s case is not yet settled, but it would hardly reflect well on Democrats if they became backers of a movement that cheers al-Qaeda terrorists. In this connection, it does not help the Occupy Wall Street campaign’s image that it has received the endorsement of Iran’s theocratic dictator Ayatollah Khameini, who enthused this week that “Ultimately, [Occupy Wall Street] will grow so that it will bring down the capitalist system and the west.”
Dubious allies aside, it is also the case that the protesters themselves are not exactly a picture of wholesome democracy in action. The New York Post reports that the Occupy Wall Street rally in downtown New York is now full of drug addicts, drunks and convicted criminals. Some have been violent, assaulting medical volunteers and scuffling with police. Then there are the crazies who are part of the protests, including neo-Nazis and racist and anti-Semitic loons. It’s true of course that there are some reasonable people taking part in the rallies. But it’s also true that there are many radicals in the crowd and more and more they are shaping the popular impression of this chaotic campaign.
Ironically, the group that stands to gain from the Occupy Wall Street protests is the Tea Party the protests are supposed to counterbalance. Tea Party activists are already planning a national ad campaign that would contrast the Occupy Wall Street’s anarchic and unruly crowds with the orderly middle-class folks who show up at Tea Party events. Portrayed as extreme by the Left, the Tea Partiers look more than reasonable compared to the radicals in the ranks of Occupy Wall Street.
Given how desperate things are for Democrats, it is understandable that they want some way to drum up populist enthusiasm and mobilize supporters. But the Occupy Wall Street protesters – disorganized, disgruntled and politically radical – are much more likely to blemish the party’s brand than to boost it.
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