Democrats See Minefield In Occupy Protests : NPR
The Republican Party and the tea party seemed to be a natural political pairing. But what may have seemed like another politically beneficial alliance — Democrats and Occupy Wall Street — hasn’t happened.
Although both Democrats and the Occupy protesters have similar views on economic inequality and corporate responsibility, each holds the other at arm’s length. There’s little benefit to Democrats in opening their arms wide to a scruffy group that has erupted in violence, defied police and shown evidence of drug use while camping in public parks across the country — much as the prospect of such a pairing delights Republicans.
Many protesters, in turn, are contemptuous of Democrats, arguing that both political parties are equally beholden to corporate interests and responsible for enacting policies that have hurt the middle class.
Both sides may be missing an opportunity. Polling shows the public supports the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement even if people have reservations about the encampments themselves. And political observers say Democrats may be missing a chance to reinvigorate their base.
“It’s injecting energy and life into progressive ideas and values, and it’s showing some weak-kneed Democrats they should be more aggressive on those issues,” Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic strategist and longtime labor leader, said. “I don’t think it will translate into boots on the ground or a clear organization for the 2012 election, but it will definitely help shape the debate.”
Occupy Wall Street hasn’t been easy for risk-averse elected officials to endorse.
The movement has lacked leadership and a clear focus, and illegal behavior has turned off some politicians. Mayors, citing concerns over sanitation and public safety, have begun to crack down on the encampments, and police in riot gear have cleared protesters from several cities, including New York, Portland, Ore., and Oakland, Calif.
Republicans have largely dismissed the Occupy Wall Street as a band of anti-capitalist ruffians, while trying to goad Democrats into embracing the movement or answering for its excesses.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called the movement dangerous class warfare, while Michele Bachmann called the protesters “ignorant” and “disrespectful.”
So far, Democrats have tried to have it both ways — embracing the movement’s economic concerns while steering clear of its rougher edges.
“I think people feel separated from their government,” President Barack Obama told ABC News. “They feel that their institutions are not looking out for them.” The president has said his jobs plan, which would boost taxes on high earners, is a way to address some of the protesters’ concerns.