Occupy the White House

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I've been surprised in recent days to see Democrats up to and including the president associate themselves with the Occupy protests. The demos reflect "broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," said Obama. David Plouffe thinks "the protests you're seeing are the same conversations people are having in living rooms and kitchens all across America." Really?

The protesters' grievances, as far as one can understand them, have a radical edge. (I assume the White House is aware that the occupiers are bitter critics of the administration.) Militancy, civil disobedience, and outright anti-capitalism are unlikely to appeal to mainstream voters. Such confrontations always have the potential to turn nasty: they often involve a minority that wants them to turn nasty. Democrats probably shouldn't condemn the protests, but they certainly ought to keep a safe distance.

Pollster Doug Schoen has been asking the Wall Street protesters about their views. His findings are roughly what you would expect:

What binds a large majority of the protesters together--regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education--is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas...

Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal. That's why the Obama-Pelosi embrace of the movement could prove catastrophic for their party.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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