President Obama and his re-election strategists seem like moths circling the glow and heat of a candle as they cozy up to the Occupy Wall Street crowd. This just might be a grassroots movement we can call our own, they must be thinking. Bad idea.
Occupy Wall Street was planned last summer in Vancouver, Canada by the anti-capitalist group AdBusters, and, in early October, the SEIU unveiled its plans to have the protesters march on the homes of wealthy New Yorkers.
Occupy Wall Street has turned out to be less of a movement and more of a place to be for those who simply long for a place to be or for others who harbor a wide variety of grievances–some legitimate, some simply far-left tropes, and some downright malevolent. Terribly disturbing is the repetition of language railing against the rich paying less taxes than the middle class (which, of course, is simply not true), tax breaks for private jet owners and the evil millionaires and billionaires. These are all populist and divisive themes eerily similar to those crafted by Team Obama strategists.
According to a Washington Post report, “President Obama and his team have decided to turn public anger at Wall Street into a central tenet of their reelection strategy.” Vice President Biden ‘s inference that those who oppose the President’s proposed tax on millionaires and billionaires will be responsible for increased rape and murder are the coming attractions for the campaign theater that is about to open.
Those intent on hitching the President’s reelection wagon to this so-called movement do him no service. They seem to have not contemplated that the strategy is apt to unleash a blowback of forces they will not be able to control. No doubt the left, if not the President, was celebrating that the movement went global, attracting demonstrators in the UK, Paris (coinciding with the G20 meetings), several German cities, Austria, Brussels (the NATO capital), Italy, and Asian locations including Tokyo, Sydney, Taipei, Auckland and Hong Kong.
But no sooner had the President, Vice President and former Majority Leader Pelosi rushed to the microphones to curry favor with the protestors, empathizing with their grievances, than the crowds were descending on the homes of the wealthy in New York. Simultaneously, it seemed, the demonstrations turned violent in Rome. There, hooded, masked demonstrators set off the worst violence seen in the Italian capital in years, setting cars ablaze and breaking bank and shop windows. Police had to deploy tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse the protestors.
Like the old Exxon slogan, they thought they had a tiger in their tank, but forces they are not able to contain predictably erupted. Peggy Noonan was almost prescient in her Wall Street Journal column published Oct. 15, just hours preceding the violence in Rome. “Movements built on hatred are corrosive and in the end corrode themselves. Ask Robespierre.” The reader will recall that Maximilien Robespierre was a leading figure during the French Revolution. He headed the radical Jacobin Club and was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety. In relatively short order, the conflagration he ignited “to punish the oppressors of humanity” ultimately and fatally consumed him, the royal family, and the clergy, as well as much of a generation of Frenchmen, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than having become or having been suspected of being wealthy.
The recent “Arab Spring” culminating in the arrest and trial of President Mubarak seemed to be ushering in a democratic form of government in Egypt. Recently, however, demonstrators in Cairo were rampaging in the streets, some attacking the Israeli embassy while others committed acts of seemingly senseless violence against Coptic Christian churches in the city.
Occupy Wall Street has not turned violent in America, and hopefully, it won’t. But no one should doubt that violence is on the agenda of many of those who are mingling within this crowd. To many who are drawn to the streets, disorder is their agenda. Because Occupy Wall Street, unlike the Tea Party, is unfocused and home to every conceivable group with a grievance (any grievance will do) it is, over time, far more apt to repel rather than attract the sympathy or the support of the broad American body politic.
Van Jones will not succeed in his quest “to build a progressive counterbalance to the Tea Party.” He, like many others on the left, see Occupy Wall Street as a U.S. version of the Arab Spring. It isn’t.
Most Americans were, we believe, decidedly repulsed by the mobs in Greece and the August riots in London. The spectacle of populism degenerating into an assault on the Israeli embassy and Christian churches in Cairo was a sobering reminder of where populist movements can evolve.
And, of course, we find the usual cast of limelight-seeking characters among the protesters, including the LaRoucheites, the Sandinistas, what’s left of the Communist Party, and an alarming number of anti-Semites. ADL has seen just enough to issue warnings about the growing presence of Jew haters, as has David Brooks writing in the New York Times. Abe Greenwald, writing in Commentary observes, “The Jew-hatred among protesters and sympathizers is diverse and unapologetic. It is, in fact, atmospheric.”
The fear of anti-Semitism being exploited was raised by non-Jewish writers as well, as evidenced, ironically and in somewhat barbed fashion, by none other than Al Jazeera, “An ugly old tradition is back: Exploiting anti-Semitism to break the backs of popular movements that threaten the power of the wealthiest one per cent of our population. It is being used to undermine the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has conservatives in a state of near panic.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement in Los Angeles turned particularly ugly with posters and speeches blaming Jewish bankers for America’s income inequality. These are part and parcel of the forces with which the President and other leading Democrats are flirting for the cheap reason of gaining another four years in the Oval Office. Meanwhile, this anti-Semitic ugliness hasn’t received any attention whatsoever (other than from a few columnists) in the mainstream press, which would have reacted with nonstop outrage had the protestors held signs blaming Islamic terrorists for a terrorist bombing.
Political correctness trumps truth when it comes to certain ethnic groups. History is replete with examples of what happens when people close their eyes to the risks to society from the failure to confront evildoers who make no secret of their plans. Not only the German people, but also President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin preferred to believe that the sick rantings of Adolf Hitler and his band of criminal thugs could be ignored. Such appeasement and cowardice cleared the way for World War II and Auschwitz.
President Obama, his reelection strategists, and the mainstream media should think long and hard about other politicians in other times who have used public despair and anger for mere political gain.
George Washington, in his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport Rhode Island set the gold standard for American presidents when he wrote, “…the United States gives to bigotry no sanction…” If only there were a semblance of such leadership today.
Violence in Italy. Unvarnished bigotry in America. The President would be well advised to seriously ponder John F. Kennedy’s famous admonition: “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding on the back of the tiger ended up inside.”
By Hal Gershowitz and Stephen Porter