As the Occupy Wall Street protest enters its fourth week, it confronts increasingly sharp political pressures and choices that center on the question of the Democratic Party.
On Thursday, both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made statements meant to project sympathy for the protesters. Obama, at a White House press conference, declared that they "are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works." In virtually the same breath he defended his support for the TARP bailout of the banks.
At a forum in Washington, Biden asserted that the protests have "a lot in common with the Tea Party." He continued: "The Tea Party started, why? TARP. They thought it was unfair."
Biden's reference to the Tea Party was by no means offhand. As a number of statements by Democratic strategists and newspaper columns by figures around the Democrats indicate, there is a desire within the party to exploit the protests for its own purposes, much in the way the Republicans have utilized the Tea Party.
The right-wing, pseudo-populist Tea Party was largely the creation of the Republican Party, pumped up by Fox News and the rest of the media. Nonetheless, it proved able, given the pro-Wall Street policies of the Obama administration, to tap into popular anger over the bank bailout and deteriorating economic and social conditions -- in order to exploit it for the most reactionary ends.
The protest that began on Wall Street and has now spread across the US has a very different origin and, unlike the corporate-funded and media-promoted Tea Party, is a genuine expression of mass popular discontent. The fact that it is correctly targeting the bankers and speculators reflects a growth of anti-capitalist sentiment.
This has produced growing alarm in the US corporate and political establishment. The aim of the Democrats is to politically emasculate this movement and somehow harness it behind the reactionary policies of the Obama administration. They want to turn it into a harmless safety valve for popular anger while at the same time using it to "energize" the Democrats' base.
As the New York Times reported Friday, "To hear some Democratic analysts tell it, the mushrooming protests could be the start of a populist movement on the left that counterbalances the surge of the Tea Party on the right, and closes what some Democrats fear is an 'enthusiasm gap.'"