Obama misunderstands the Wall Street movement
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.”
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.