As the early '70s repeat themselves with the chaotic Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in lower Manhattan, we need to grasp what a peril this movement is to President Obama and the entire Democratic Party. It is like the Obama campaign run wild without Obama in it. It is as if the bandwagon has taken off and left the president behind. And he and his party are racing to catch up. "There go my followers," they seem to be saying, "and I must go with them because I am their leader."
Just as the civil rights movement of the late '50s and early '60s and the youthful enthusiasm that animated JFK's candidacy in 1960 energized a generation, so the Obama campaign did in 2008. But just as frustration with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and the entire political system turned the idealism of the young into sour cynicism, so the Obama campaign's young enthusiasts have become cynical, bitter opponents of the entire political/economic system. If the Obama campaign harkened back to memories of the civil rights demonstrations of the '60s, so the Occupy Wall Street effort reminds us of SDS, SNCC, hippies, yuppies, the Chicago Seven and Jerry Rubin.
The fact is that Obama is less a socialist than a corporatist. His objective is not government ownership, but government management. To control the economy -- and all of our lives -- he needs to get rid of small banks and small business and consolidate it all in a few big banks and big corporations; hence his friendliness to Goldman-Sachs and General Motors. When wealthy tycoons go to dinners and give Obama $35,000 donations, they know what they are doing. It is not liberal Democratic masochism at work, it is a conscious investment in central planning where big labor, big government, big business and big banks meet and divvy up the pie, just as they do in Germany and France. That is Obama's game.
His former supporters have taken to the streets to protest his corporatist alliances. Sure, they oppose the Republicans and the conservatives, but they have more in common with the Tea Party than they realize. Both are acting out against big business. Wall Street is as much the enemy of Main Street as it is of college campuses.
The unions and the professional left are scrambling, along with Obama and the Democrats, to head off the stampede among their followers in the Occupy Wall Street movement. They are trying to make up for their pro-Wall Street policies by seeming to take on rich people in their tax program. But the young demonstrators will not be fooled. They invested their dreams for Obama in 2008 and, since then, have gotten only compromises, half-measures, incompetence and a ruined economy in return.
The conservatives and Republicans no longer own the anti-Obama movement. They have to share ownership with disenchanted liberals, those who recognize incompetence when they see it, and the many who are turned off by the growing perception of corruption in the wake of Solyndra. The bad economy has led to an impression of presidential weakness and inability akin to that which took over the image of Jimmy Carter in the late '70s. More and more, the opposition to Obama is based on the outcomes of his policies, not on their ideological bias or their liberal intent.
Will the Republicans drive these new converts to the anti-Obama cause back into the arms of the Democrats? The likes of Mitt Romney won't. Rick Perry might, particularly as he explains his designs on the Social Security system. But even if they are worried by the possibility of a Republican victory in 2012, their more likely reaction is to vote with their feet and stay home. Obama cannot muster the same enthusiasm he did in 2008. It's out there, but it is now opposed to him, not for him. That's what Occupy Wall Street is all about.