- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

President Obama badly needs the support of the far left in his bid for re-election. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators certainly would fit that bill. But Mr. Obama has reacted with great caution before openly embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has not issued a public statement endorsing its actions - merely an expression of “understanding.” He has not gone to Manhattan to appear with the demonstrators or to any other related demonstrations in any U.S. city. He has elected instead to campaign in the pastoral tranquillity of Virginia and North Carolina, where the riotous scene in Manhattan is anathema. Obviously, Mr. Obama recognizes there are serious consequences to attaching his star to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

By any measure, the demonstrations will be judged by the American people as radical. In contrast to the relative peace and tranquillity of a Tea Party rally, the scene in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park is one of chanted threats and insults, ill-dressed and disenchanted youth, battles with police and mass arrests. The similarity to the anti-war demonstrations by the hippies in Chicago in 1969 cannot escape the notice of most mature Americans, who have seen it before. The anti-war radicals were never endorsed by the Lyndon Johnsons, Hubert Humphreys or Edward Kennedys of that era.

Unlike the anti-war demonstrators, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have not made it clear yet what they actually are seeking to accomplish. As with the Tea Party in its infancy, signage carried by Occupy Wall Street suggests all kinds of different purposes and goals, including everything from a government takeover of the banks to free education to canceling all debt. Most important to Mr. Obama, it is not yet at all clear whether the movement supports him or is disenchanted with him along with the rest of the Washington politicians for failing to turn the economy around and give the demonstrators jobs. Perhaps the focus of Occupy Wall Street will become clearer as time goes by, just as has the Tea Party’s focus. That has not occurred in its first few weeks.

There is a more fundamental problem for Mr. Obama with Occupy Wall Street: By its very name, Occupy Wall Street is an assault on capitalism itself. It is a call for the destruction of the American economic system. While often accused of being a socialist, Mr. Obama has been very careful to deny the charge. During his election, he never told the American people the “change” he would bring would be a hard turn toward socialism. There can be no mistake that what the Occupy Wall Street movement seeks to do is far more than force a hard turn toward socialism. It is a call for destruction of America’s “greedy” corporations and the investment powerhouse that has funded the growth and development of America’s greatest innovations and employers - Wall Street. Embracing such a concept could well be political suicide. Indeed, how many other left-wing politicians have rushed in to endorse the movement? Nancy Pelosi is the only one so far, and no one is surprised. The Rev. Al Sharpton has, too, but he is not a politician.

As with the political uprising of the Arab Spring in Egypt six months ago, it is far too early to tell who is driving the Occupy Wall Street movement and where it is going. Is it going to become a peaceful power source for Mr. Obama, much like the Tea Party has become for the Republican Party? Or it is going to be controlled by the radical left, bent on creating anarchy, leading to the destruction of capitalism and its replacement with a contemporary form of communism? If anyone thinks he knows the answer to this troubling question, try giving it to Mr. Obama. He would like to know, just like the American people.

One thing is for certain: 2012 is shaping up to be the most polarizing battle to control the American government since the Civil War. We are more than a year away from the election. There is plenty of time for both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party to build up their armies of supporters. The lines will be so clearly drawn that Mr. Obama will be unable to stay on the fence between capitalism and socialism as the war rages.

Robert Keck is author of the new book “Tea and Revolution,” (Pinnacle Books, 2011).

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