Thursday, May 3, 2012

Occupy Wall Street poses election year liability for Democrats

Occupy protesters celebrated May Day, the traditional labor and communist holiday, with spasms of violence across the country on Monday. According to Buzz Feed, “Black Bloc” protesters in New York, the cradle of the Occupy movement, attacked photographers and tried to take their cameras. The New York Daily News reports that the NYPD arrested 86 protesters on charges “ranging from disorderly conduct to assaulting cops.”

On the West Coast, there was even more violence. In Oakland, police used tear gas and “flash bang” grenades to break up demonstrations and arrested at least 25 protesters according to CBS News. In Seattle, the violence seemed to be the worst as Occupiers dressed in black broke windows, vandalized cars, blocked traffic and did extensive damage to the federal courthouse MSNBC reports.

In Cleveland, protests were canceled after five members of Occupy Cleveland were arrested by the FBI for plotting to blow up bridges. The Plain Dealer reports that the men are anarchists who were part of the Occupy encampment on Cleveland’s Public Square. One of the men had been arrested with others in the Occupy movement for disrupting a Cuyahoga County foreclosure sale in March.

As the Occupy movement reawakens, it is becoming more of a liability for Democrats. A Quinnipiac poll from November 2011, the end of last year’s protest season, found that registered voters disapproved of the Occupy movement by a margin of 39 to 30 percent. A further 30 percent were undecided, but if the violence becomes more pronounced it is likely that more voters will turn against the Occupiers.

The problem for Democrats is that President Obama and many other prominent party members have backed the movement since its inception. Democrats have defended the movement as similar to the Tea Party, which has been linked to virtually no violence, and expressed support for the Occupiers and their goals. Democratic support for the movement continued even after protests turned violent in New York and elsewhere across the country.

In an ABC News interview from October 2011, President Obama responded to the protests saying, “The most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership letting people know that we understand their struggles and we are on their side, and that we want to set up a system in which hard work, responsibility, doing what you’re supposed to do, is rewarded.”

The president also noted in the same interview that “In some ways, they [Occupy Wall Street] are not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party.  Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren’t looking out for them.”

On another occasion, after being heckled by Occupy protesters, President Obama responded “Families like yours, young people like the ones here today — including the ones who were just chanting at me — you’re the reason that I ran for office in the first place.” A video of the incident is linked by the Weekly Standard.

Similarly, Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview quoted on Talking Points Memo, ““What is the core of that protest, and why is it increasing in terms of the people it’s attracting — the core is the bargain has been breached with the American people. The core is the American people do not think the system is fair or on the level….. That is the core of what you’re seeing on Wall Street.” Biden went on to compare Occupy Wall Street with the rise of the Tea Party.

Even congressional Democrats stated support for the Occupy Movement. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that “the gulf between rich and poor… has motivated thousands to occupy parks across the country and make their voices heard” according to Politico. Former house speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News “I support the message to the establishment, whether it's Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest that change has to happen.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted an online petition supporting Occupy Wall Street. The website says that the petition is a response to Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) comment that he was “increasingly concerned by the growing mobs” of protesters. The petition begins, “As Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, ‘The message of the American people is that no longer will the recklessness of some on Wall Street cause massive joblessness on Main Street….’”

The Occupy movement has not returned the Democratic love. Anger at President Obama’s corporate bailouts has been a central pillar of the Occupy movement since its inception. An informal survey of Occupy Atlanta protesters last summer on revealed that more were aligned with Ron Paul than with Barack Obama. As noted earlier, Occupiers also harassed and heckled President Obama at speeches. When Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) tried to address Occupy Atlanta last year, he was turned away because the movement was “not about one individual” and recognized “no hierarchy” according to Creative Loafing.

All of this puts Democrats in a difficult position with respect to the November elections. The Democrats have publicly aligned themselves with a movement that is physically attacking businesses and spawning domestic terrorists. As the movement becomes more overtly violent, it is likely to lose even more support among the American people.

If the Democrats continue to stand with Occupy Wall Street as it becomes more violent, they risk alienating independent and moderate voters. If they reject the Occupiers and their violent tactics, they risk alienating the left-wing Democratic base, which is already unhappy with many of the president’s policies. To win their elections, President Obama and threatened Democrats in the senate need to win the majority of independent voters while maximizing the turnout of their base.

Much of the damage to the Democratic base may already be done. A video posted by the Washington Free Beacon shows Occupiers in New York expressing their dissatisfaction with President Obama this week at the May Day gathering. The protesters say that President Obama betrayed them and call him a liar. One man (not on the video) said, “I feel that Obama, especially on the civil liberties perspective, has raped me in the a–.” Another says that he will “never again vote for a Democrat for anything, not even dogcatcher.”


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