There’s only one way the Occupy Wall Street movement can become like the tea parties, and that’s for Barack Obama to lose in 2012. Why? Because Obama is the most divisive figure in American politics today.
I suspect that sentence reads funny to some people because in the mainstream press, “divisive” is usually a term reserved for “conservatives we disagree with.” But as a factual matter it can apply to anybody who is, well, divisive.
Obviously, Obama divides the right and left. That’s not all that interesting or relevant (even if it does represent a failure to live up to his “one America” rhetoric from 2008). But Obama also divides everyone else. Independents, whom he desperately needs to win re-election, are split over Obama, with the bulk siding with Republicans.
Even more significant, the left is deeply divided over Obama. According to reports, the Occupy Wall Street movement is torn over whether to support the incumbent president. Polling of the protestors is sketchy at best, but so far it’s pretty clear that most of the protestors liked Obama in 2008, and now roughly half of them are disillusioned by, disappointed in, or opposed to Obama.
That should only make sense, right? If Occupy Wall Street is a sincere, organic, grassroots movement for radical change and overturning the status quo, it can’t be 100 percent behind the guy who’s been running the country for the last three years.
Moreover, Democrats had near total control of the government for Obama’s first two years. Together, Obama and congressional Democrats already got their Wall Street and student-loan reforms, their health-care overhaul, and a huge stimulus. And yet Occupy Wall Street is still furious with the political status quo. Does anyone believe Obama can both run on his record and co-opt the Occupy Wall Streeters?
A “political hip-hop artist” who goes by the name “Immortal Technique” summarizes the view of many OWSers. “We’re willing to put [Obama’s] second term on the altar of democracy and sacrifice it if we need to,” I.T. told Rawstory.com, “to send a message to the rest of the world saying, ‘If you promise us change, and then you deliver nothing but the same, if you do these little superficial changes to pacify the people, to placate people, then you expose yourself.’”
Of course, Occupy Wall Street is just one facet of Obama’s larger problem. Why is he running as a left-leaning populist these days? Because he has to unify and energize his mopey and dispirited base, and hope that he can woo back independents later.
This is where comparisons to the tea parties are instructive. As I’ve long argued, a major motivating passion of the tea-party movement was a long-delayed backlash against George W. Bush and his big-government conservatism. The Bush-Obama bailouts and Obamacare were the perfect excuse for a disaffected conservative base (as well as some independents and libertarians) to vent frustration about ballooning deficits, expanded entitlements, and other elements of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”