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Obama misunderstands the Wall Street movement

October 8, 2011

By John F. Kirch

President Obama recently characterized the Occupy Wall Street movement as a profound expression of frustration with “how our financial system works,” and he suggested that congressional Republicans share much of the blame for why thousands of citizens are rallying in the streets of New York and other cities.

He is wrong.

What Obama fails to recognize is that the Occupy movement is as much about his shortfalls in office than anything the Republicans or Wall Street hedge fund managers have done. Yes, the public is angry with the excess of corporate America, but the Left’s main grievance is with the president himself.

More specifically, the voters who enthusiastically supported him three years ago are angry that Obama (1) broke his campaign promises to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and end the war in Iraq, (2)  did not fight for a “public option” during the health care debate, (3) failed to roll back the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, and (4) capitulated to Republican demands for drastic federal budget cuts during the debt ceiling “crisis” this summer.

Since his inauguration, the Left has waited for Obama to take a stand against the greed and government complacency that eventually led to the financial meltdown of 2008.  What they got was just another establishment politician. The protests that began in lower Manhattan three weeks ago are an indication that progressives are waiting no more.

“We elected Obama in this wave of liberalism and we thought he would take it from there,” said Dan Kauder, a substitute teacher from Maryland who attended the protest in Washington, DC’s Freedom Plaza on Thursday. “It’s taken the Left two years to realize he’s not going to be out there taking heads.”

Activists protest against torture during the Occupy DC rally on Thursday

It’s not that Obama completely misses the point. During a press conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, the president acknowledged that he “used up a lot of political capital” with his liberal base when he bailed out the banks in 2009.

But throughout his session with reporters, the president continued to hark back to the Republicans, saying that while he is fighting for the average person, GOP members of Congress are playing political games and blocking him every step of the way.

Such arguments are likely to have little impact on liberals, many of whom believe the president squandered an opportunity to harness the excitement that surrounded his election and turn it into a powerful force that could have pushed progressive legislation through Congress.

Instead, progressives say, Obama surrounded himself with the Washington political establishment and forgot the grassroots organization he used so effectively to win the presidency.

In short, there would have been no need for the Occupy Wall Street movement had Obama delivered even a little of his promise to change how America works.

“The Obama campaign saw one of the largest social progressive movements in the last 40 years,” said Gan Golan, a unemployeed urban planner who attended Thursday’s rally in Washington. “On the day after the election, that huge electoral infrastructure was waiting for instructions on what to do next. That e-mail never came.”

Golan added: “The Obama administration oversaw one of the biggest demobilization efforts of a grassroots movement, and it’s taken us two years to recover. We’ve learned an important lesson. Political change is not going to come from political leaders.”

Especially when those leaders don’t recognize when a social movement is aimed – at least partially — at them.

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7 Comments
  1. Nicely put, I try to draw attention to these short comings with democrats, and they say what are you going to do vote repuglican? I think we have more choices than Obomba or the tea party. To me is is a matter or morality, If Obama is, by international standards, a war criminal and a murderer, would i not be supporting these policy’s by voting for him? If one is actually anti war, would not it make sense to vote for someone who is not pro war? I just thank Allah for the rise of #Occupy, maybe we as Americans can have a frank discussion about our future now….

    Respect from http://occupyvermont.wordpress.com/

  2. Ron Mooney permalink

    Great work!

  3. Mr. Kirch,

    It is not that Obama “misunderstands” the OWS Movement. Or that he misses its point. You come close to saying it, but then back off. Yes. It has taken over two years for “the Left” to figure out that Obama is “just another politician.” I submit, however, that he is much more than that.

    We have marveled at his supposed “intelligence.” right? How then could such a supposedly intelligent person fail to see what most observers in the country understand as a given: The Republicans and Democrats are simply two interchangeable wings of one party — the Corporate Party. Thus it does not matter which party is in “power” at any given moment because the selfsame financiers of both parties call the tune. Obama expects to raise $1 billion this time around. Where do you think that money is coming from. Certainly not small donations from small donors. And if he is re-elected, just as he has done since 2008, he will repay his corporate sponsors in kind.

    In other words, he knows exactly, precisely what he is doing and why. And now, finally, so does everybody else.

    • Mr. Dyer,

      First, thanks for taking the time to comment on the post. I agree with the sentiment of your argument. The Democrats and Republicans have essentially become minor factions within the same political party. The point I was trying to make is that Obama can’t get off the hook by explaining away the protests as a general frustration with Wall Street and corporate greed. It’s much more than that, and he knows it. He needs to acknowledge, in public, that his political base is upset mainly because they feel misled by his promises in 2008. Obama was very clevor during the last presidential election. He was an establishment candidate who allowed the Left to believe what it wanted to believe — that he was some great progressive who could really bring change to Washington. That said, you make a fair point. There are many people who never bought into the Obama image and are not disappointed because they never expected much from him. Perhaps that nees to be another post.

  4. Excellent post. I am in Greensboro, NC, where TPOTUS spent the other night on this fly-over “jobs” tour he is taking, which resembled a campaign tour instead of official business. (I did vote for him, but share the disillusionment.) Here, our “Occupy” message was quite clear, when the 99% paused to genuflect in front of Bank of America (the big fish that swallowed Countrywide in 2008, and, arguably, was one of the factors that invited this tsunami): “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

    We were not protesting the bailout, but the idea that the corresponding government programs to help homeowners being foreclosed on (HAMP, etc.) were a sham and a huge waste of money funded by the very taxpayers being kicked to the curb, with no hope of the living wage they had, before, or affordable health insurance or prescription drugs. I’m sorry to recognize that one of the people sold us out was the person who promised, “Yes, we can!” effect change. That is going to be a complicated message to craft for a second term. On the other hand, the good news for his team is.Tuesday night’s debate .

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