I’m pretty sure this exchange at today’s briefing with Jay Carney represents the first time the White House has been asked to weigh in on the Occupy Wall Street protests — yet another sign of the movement’s astonishing growth in recent days:
QUESTION: Have the “Occupy Wall Street” protests reached a level of the President’s engaged awareness? Is he sympathizing with the protestors? Is he concerned about the protests at all?
CARNEY: I haven’t discussed it with him. I’m sure he’s aware of it because he follows the news. I would simply say that, to the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand. And that’s why we’re so urgently trying to focus Congress’s attention on the need to take action on the economy and job creation.
And as regards Wall Street, I mean, one of the things that this President is very proud of is the consumer protections that were put into place through legislation that Republicans are now eager to try to dismantle. We think that’s a bad idea...Because these are common-sense consumer protections that would prevent the kind of abuse that credit card companies engaged in against credit card holders, that would protect against some of the actions that were taken that led to, or contributed to, the financial crisis that we saw in 2008. These were measures that the President felt were very important, and there’s a clear effort within the Congress to prevent the full implementation of legislation by holding up this nomination. We think that’s cynical and a bad idea.
The story here is not what the White House said but that it was asked to weigh in on the protests at all — another sign of the remarkable speed with which it has grown from a crowd chanting at police two weeks ago. As for the substance of the White House response, it would have been a mistake for it to go any further than it did here — registering an understanding of economic frustration. Because if there’s one thing that’s growing clearer by the hour, it’s that this is an entirely organic effort, one that’s about nobody but the protesors themselves. In this sense, we’re seeing a replay of the Wisconsin protests. Those ended up falling just short of what activists had hoped to achieve, but their months-long showing was still important — it demonstrated that left wing populism is still alive and well and sent an important message about the mood of the country. The key was that it grew organically with little to no involvement from Beltway Dems and the White House.
If anything, Occupy Wall Street’s lack of outside encouragement from bigfoot Dems has been a strength, rather than a weakness. As major progressive groups debate how they can contribute to strengthening the movement — and how to give it specific direction and a specific agenda — the need to preserve its grassroots nature will remain paramount. Who knows where this will end up, but for now, this is another reminder that the Tea Party isn’t the only voice of popular discontentment over the economy. We don’t necessarily live in Tea Party Nation, after all.