GOP Candidates Dial Back Criticism of Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Andrew Burton/AP Photo

After weeks of bad-mouthing the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the Republican presidential candidates eased off their criticism Tuesday night at the Bloomberg/Washington Post GOP debate.

With the exception of Newt Gingrich, the White House hopefuls targeted their angst at Washington, not Wall Street, and urged protesters to do the same.

“They have basically targeted the wrong target,” said Herman Cain, who has recently secured the No.2 spot in the polls. “It should be against the failed policies of this administration, not Wall Street, is where they should be protesting.”

Cain’s comments Tuesday night were significantly toned-down compared to the harsh words he had for the protesters last week.

“Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” Cain said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday. “It is not a person’s fault because they succeeded; it is a person’s fault if they failed. And so this is why I don’t understand these demonstrations and what is it that they’re looking for.”

But sitting next to front-runner Mitt Romney at the debate table, Cain dialed back his comments, saying they were not directed at all unemployed Americans, only those protesting the “wrong” cause.

“That response was directed at the people that are protesting on Wall Street, not that 14 million people who are out of work for no reason of their own other than this economy is not growing, not the millions of people that are under-unemployed,” Cain said Tuesday night.

But while Cain backed away from his tough tone, his fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich sharpened his condemnation of some  ”Occupy” protesters who have camped out in New York City and other cities around the world.

“I think the people who are protesting on Wall Street break into two groups,” Gingrich said. “One is left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic, and the other is sincere middle-class people who, frankly, are very close to the Tea Party people and actually care.”

“And you can tell which group is which,” Gingrich added. “The people who are decent, responsible citizens pick up after themselves. The people who are just out there as activists trash the place and walk off and are proud of having trashed it. So let’s draw that distinction.”

GOP Candidates Blame Pennsylvania Avenue, Not Wall Street

Gingrich said a distinction should also be made about who “put the fix in” and caused the financial crisis. One demand of the Occupy protesters is for bankers involved in the financial meltdown to be investigated and put in jail.

“If you want to put people in jail,” Gingrich said, “you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, and let’s look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment and the politicians who put this country in trouble.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and former Sen. Chris Dodd, D- Conn., where the architects of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that is designed to regulate banks and prevent another lending crisis.

The two lawmakers have become punching bags for many of the GOP candidates who vow to overturn their regulatory bill.

“The absolute wrong time to have the absolute wrong people put together a financial regulatory bill was right now in Barney Frank and Chris Dodd,” Romney said at the debate. “They were the wrong guys at the wrong time, because what they did with this new bill is usher in what will be hundreds and thousands of pages of new regulations.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also shot barbs at Dodd and Frank, calling their bill the “jobs and housing destruction act.”

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said it is ”obviously a disaster.”

And Rick Santorum said he not only wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, but vows to repeal every regulation enacted during the Obama administration that costs more than $100 million.

The former Pennsylvania senator’s zero regulations mantra is one aspect of his 0-0-0 economic plan, an obvious twist on Cain’s highly popular 9-9-9 jobs plan, which was mentioned by every person at the debate table Tuesday night except Gingrich and Paul.

The 9-9-9 plan would lower all income taxes to 9 percent and eliminate many of taxes that disproportionately target the wealthy, such as capital gains.

By lowering taxes on the wealthy and increasing them on lower-income Americans, Cain’s plan is exactly the type of policy the Occupy Wall Street protesters are fighting.

The group’s slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” as in the 99 percent of the country that shares the same amount of wealth as the top 1 percent, underscores its demand that the wealthy should bear more of the tax burden.

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 64 percent of Americans agree with the protesters that corporations and the wealthy should be taxed more, while 31 percent say, as do most of the GOP candidates, that it is a bad idea.