Toy With OWS and the Tea Party at Your Peril

Playing cynical games with these grassroots movements can backfire on leaders in both parties.

Scott Olson/ Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Scott Olson/ Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

That analysis makes sense and strikes a chord, but it wasn’t the analysis the president used to express how he felt about the Tea Party in April 2010: “I’ve been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. You would think they would be saying thank you.”

Nor was it the analysis used by Vice President Biden when he allegedly commented, “[Tea Partiers] have acted like terrorists,” or by Newt Gingrich when he told OWS protesters to “get a job right after you take a bath.”

So what is it about these two entities that causes almost convulsive reactions from presumably reasonable people? Politics.

The truth is, both the grassroots of the right and the left in America are no longer pawns to be moved into position by the mere shouting of a word or pointing of a finger by a leader. Instead, these activists have become an inconvenience to those who think they hold the power.

But the game must be played, and so Obama’s “we are on their side” bow to the Wall Street protesters is really a naked political calculation. It is a roll of the dice — one in which the president would launch a “class warfare” argument against the Republican Party: “Would you rather keep … tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires or would you say, let’s get teachers back in the classroom?” Nice sound bite, but it does nothing to get the local small-business owner to start hiring again. But of course we know that’s not the point.

But here is the point: As the protests have spread from Wall Street to Main Street, the president and Democrat strategists seem to hope these demonstrations against “corporate greed” will be a sustainable progressive alternative to the Tea Party, thus boosting Democrat chances in next year’s elections. Early indications are that such a strategy appears to be working — at least with those who are watching all of this from their living rooms.

A recent Fox News poll asked, “Do you think Barack Obama’s political strategy for re-election is designed to bring people together with a hopeful message, or drive people apart with a partisan message?” According to Fox News, “Fifty-six percent said the president is pursuing his campaign strategy to bring people together. That majority of registered voters included 53 percent of independents and 68 percent of self-described moderates. It also includes 58 percent of people who earn over $50,000 annually.”

This is, however, a strategy fraught with danger.