October 24, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Election Strategy: Another Very Bad Idea

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

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 Ad Busters, and, in early October, the SEIU unveiled its plans to have the protestors 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, and for others who harbor a wide variety of grievances, some legitimate, some simply far-left holy grail, 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; 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, the clergy, as well as much of a generation of Frenchman, 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 including: the LaRoucheies; the Sandinistas: what’s left of the Communist Party and an alarming number of anti-Semites rallying around the Occupy Wall Street banner.  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.”


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9 responses to “Occupy Wall Street Election Strategy: Another Very Bad Idea”

  1. Mark J Levick says:

    Either our President is not a student of history or he cares not that unemployment of the masses has always served as a trigger for anti-semitism. Mr. Axe rod and the President’s hoards of Jewish operatives and supporters should know better. It’s a sad day in America when the the strongest support for the Jewish people comes from Christian Conservatives while the liberal left and their minions in the media aid and abet those who hate.

  2. Fred Mayer says:

    A scary comment on our time ! The Nazis started in Germany as a group of malcontented hoodlums blaming their frustration on the government, anyone that did not agree with them, and the Jews.
    That Obama is courting and encouragcing these losers is unconcieonable and not to be ignored by decent people and the media.

  3. sheila says:

    I think there is a grave misconception on the part of the authors as to what this Occupy movement is about. While there is no question that the movement has brought a group of bigots and hate mongers out of the woodwork, I think it is a big mistake to characterize the majority of the participants as misfits or evildoers, or those who are looking for a far-left holy grail, or to suggest that Obama is pandering to a rabidly anti-Semitic crowd. The majority of these people are not anti-capitalists. On the contrary, they would love to reap a slice of the American Dream. For the most part, these are people who are hard working citizens, just trying to raise their families, send their kids to college and have a decent comfortable life without declaring bankruptcy. These are people for whom that small slice of the American Dream, through little or no fault of their own, exploded in their face. They have been royally screwed by the system — they have lost their jobs, their homes, their health care benefits and they are angry that the Wall Street crowd that was responsible for the near collapse of our economy (not to mention the global economy) walked away scot-free and very very rich. They are saying that this was an abject miscarriage of justice, and as a result, millions of people in this country have suffered badly. Frankly, I am pretty upset about that myself!

    As the authors of this blog know, I am not a part of the Occupy movement, though I am sympathetic to it — I am a very proud to be an American citizen, and I wake up every day grateful to have been born in this country. Yet I cannot close my eyes to the fact that our system badly needs repair. The Occupy movement is just simply calling for change that seems to fall on the very deaf ears of Libertarians and Tea Partiers who are intent on doing away with the middle class – widening the already huge gap between the rich and the poor – placing a premium on exclusivity. I applaud President Obama for listening to this group – while it may be a savvy political move on his part, there is no doubt in my mind that in the words of multiple politicians, he is “on the right side of history”. President Obama has already far exceeded expectations anyone had for him in the foreign affairs arena. The next round will be about jobs and the economy, and he far from perfect, but is unquestionably smart enough to pull this off. I’ll probably forever be banned from this site, but I sincerely hope he wins this next round.

    • We never wrote that “the majority of the participants (are) misfits or evildoers, or those who are looking for a far-left holy grail or that Obama is pandering to a rabidly anti-Semitic crowd.” We wrote (as sheilajgw acknowledges) that the movement has brought a group of bigots and hate mongers out of the woodwork. We wrote that they are part and parcel of the movement with which democratic politicians are flirting and that there is danger in that. We stand by that assessment. We have not hesitated to criticize both the greed and stupidity on Wall Street, nor have we hesitated to criticize the government policies that not only encouraged but demanded that American banking abandon credit worthiness as a requisite to mortgage qualification. As an aside, we ban no one from our site.

  4. irwin yablans says:

    Hey wait a minute Mr, Mayer.Last time I looked,it was the tea party.Michelle bachman and most of the republican candidates for president that were blaming The “Guvmnt”for all our ills.
    Brava Shiela…..couldn’t have said it better.

  5. sheila wasserman says:

    Racist/hate rhetoric of any type should never be tolerated, especially in public discourse (I know I’m getting into 1st amendment issues here, but I’m just saying) – and in crowd scenarios or mass rallies like the Occupy movement it has the potential to become all the more dangerous. I’ve not been to an Occupy rally, but from what I’ve read, (The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-is-not-anti-semitic/246884/, the Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/where-are-the-anti-semites-of-occupy-wall-street/2011/10/24/gIQAP89eDM_story.html), Politico, which references an ADL statement that the anti-semetic outbursts don’t represent the broader group: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/66356.html.)
    it seems like the anti-semetic vitriol is much more on the margins.

    I guess my only point here is that I would hate to imply that President Obama is sympathetic to the relatively few who spew hate or that he is using these sympathies to build a base for the 2012 election– and I would not want to mark the Occupy movement as “built on hatred”, per the Peggy Noonan quote. Anger/frustration and racism/hate are horses of an entirely different color. What troubles me about this particular blog entry is that comments about President Obama could be construed by readers who aren’t as erudite or balanced as the authors, to mean that he has anti-semitic sympathies, which I do not believe is true and which would be unfair to implant as a potential argument against his re-election.

  6. Dan newell says:

    Two weeks ago I was at Occupy Wall Street and a few days later in Rome to witness events there. Since I, like most, was looking for what these people suggest to resolve our real economic hardships, I listened carefully. Gross disappointment. So I turned to photography. I had hoped at least a couple of placards had something to offer. Silly me. In Rome, labor unions rented many busses to flood the city with protesters. Of course they don’t want to participate in any way to help Berlisconi get out of the Italian credit crisis. Numbers of Communist posters on the buildings.

  7. Joyce Gruenberg says:

    I was so disappointed in “another bad idea “. I support Sheila and agree with everything she says. It is a cheap shot to cite anti Semitism in the Wall Street Movement. You guys know better than that!!

    • We beg to differ. We agree with the David Brooks editorial in The NY Times, the concern expressed by ADL and Commentary Magazine. AD Busters, the group that planned and initially promoted Occupy Wall Street is the same group that ran the, “Why Doesn’t Anyone Say Their Jews” campaign. George Washington had it right. We should give to bigotry no sanction. That’s not a cheap shot.

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