Democrats Seek to Own 'Occupy Wall Street' Movement

Wall Street Protests: Washington Picks a
WATCH Wall Street Protests: Washington Picks a Side

Occupation can lead to ownership, whether or not you want it.

The spread of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement was met with initial hesitation in both the Democratic and Republican parties. That might be an appropriate response to any protests aimed squarely at the establishment, particularly those with goals that are diverse and diffuse as those of the protesters.

But a consensus is emerging among Democrats that the "Occupy" movement is worth tapping into, even helping along and joining with in some instances.

"I support the message to the establishment," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on ABC's "This Week." "Change has to happen. We cannot continue in a way that does not -- that is not relevant to their lives. People are angry."

To Democrats eager for a liberal antidote to the Tea Party energy that lifted Republicans to power last year, the "Occupy" rallies that started in New York last month and have spread to cities nationwide are tempting to embrace.

In their broadest focus, the protesters channel the indignation Democrats are trying to stir up in the year before the presidential election. The Obama White House is seeking to rally the public for a jobs package and deficit-reduction ideas that argue for the rich and corporate America to pay more -- goals the protesters largely share.

"The protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," President Obama said last week when asked at a news conference about the "Occupy Wall Street" events.

It may be that occupiers wind up playing a role for the political left that tea partiers did for the right. But Republicans had one significant advantage in taking ownership of the Tea Party phenomenon: they were entirely out of power in Washington when the movement took root.

To occupiers, at least some of the blame for their perceived lack of accountability in corporate America rests with the current Democratic administration. A persistent liberal critique of Obama administration has been its coziness with Wall Street, and the lack of more drastic actions to repair the economy after eight years under George W. Bush.

In that sense, the protests may highlight divisions inside the Democratic Party even more than they motivate the party faithful.

In its infancy, the Tea Party faced major internal rifts -- including some that almost certainly cost Republicans Senate seats last year. But most of those divisions have long since healed, as tea partiers work almost entirely in concert with Republicans, with the prospect of defeating Obama next year serving as a unifying influence.

The movement has some Republicans concerned -- worried enough to start swinging back.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has expressed concern about the "growing mobs" that are engaged in "the pitting of Americans against Americans."

Cantor's condemnation of members of Congress who are rooting the protesters on echoes conservative commentators who are belittling and delegitimizing the protests. "Occupy Wall Street" hasn't matched the Tea Party when it comes to numbers, or to concrete goals, though neither movement could ever boast of being monolithic.

Others have gone farther in denouncing the current round of protests. Tea Party Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., last week labeled the "Occupy" protests as an "attack upon freedom," and suggested that labor unions have hijacked the movement to boost the president's reelection prospects.

"They don't know why they're there. They're just mad," Broun said of the protesters, on ABC's "Top Line."

Anger, of course, respects no political boundaries these days. Many of the Republicans who are now critical of "Occupy" were cheering the Tea Party movement on.

Now it's Democrats who get to learn the lesson: Channeling the emotions of anger in politics is seldom as simple as it seems.