President Barack Obama’s support for the Occupy Wall Street movement appeared to backfire on him Tuesday, as hecklers interrupted a speech in which the president portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class fighting against Republicans who care only about the wealthy.
The president had just begun his speech at Manchester Central High School in New Hampshire early Tuesday afternoon when one of the protesters shouted: “Mic check!”
That appeared to be the cue for the Occupy crowd, whose indeterminate agenda has led some pundits to label them anarchists, to disrupt the event.
A dozen or more protesters shouted in unison: “Mr. President . . . over 4,000 peaceful protesters . . . have been arrested.”
For about a minute, Obama smiled as the shouting continued, occasionally saying: “It’s OK.”
However, when he resumed speaking, the president appeared to side with the protesters who had just interrupted his own speech.
|A protester hands the president a note in New Hampshire today. (AP)
“So a lot of the folks who have been down in New York and all across the country, in the Occupy movement, there is a profound sense of frustration . . . about the fact that the essence of the American Dream — which is if you work hard, if you stick to it, that you can make it — feels like that’s slipping away,” he said. “And it’s not the way things are supposed to be. Not here. Not in America.”
Obama went on to describe America as “a big, compassionate country where everybody who works hard should have a chance to get ahead — not just the person who owns the factory, but the men and women who work on the factory floor.”
The subtext of this and other recent statements from the president, implying that the financial system is unfair and that Wall Street is peopled by scofflaws, is part of a rhetorical pattern that Republicans say they find increasingly disturbing.
Republicans charge the president is preying intentionally on class divisions among voters in the hopes of winning four more years in the White House, despite the bad economy.
Newsmax recently asked GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, whether he believes the president’s rhetoric is indeed fanning the Occupy protests.
“Certainly when individuals in high office say things, and promote a certain philosophy, there are ramifications because of that,” Jordan said. “I think you could say, ‘Yeah, the president has tied in pretty closely when with this [movement] that has turned violent . . . this is not a healthy thing for our country, for our culture.”
This month, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Newsmax in an exclusive interview that the president’s rhetoric is “undermining the American idea” and is “almost as damaging as the policies themselves.”
Ryan, who recently gave a major speech at the Heritage Foundation touching on the topic, told Newsmax: “This rhetoric adds fuel to the fire. This rhetoric encourages zero-sum game thinking: That one man’s gain must necessarily come at another man’s loss.
“That’s not how the world works, that’s not how the economy works, that’s not how society works — but that’s how his rhetoric works. And it feeds into this idea that those who have become successful have become so because of luck or exploitation — not because of merit, not because of hard work, not because of risk taking.
“And that concept is so antithetical to the American idea. To have your president advancing this argument is, in my opinion, destructive to what binds our society together and what has made our society so exceptional,” he said.
So far the Occupy protests have been marked by thousands of arrests. They have contributed to traffic jams, public-health problems, assaults, violence, and of course charges of police brutality. On Tuesday, University of California officials placed the campus police chief on administrative leave after officers were seen on a widely distributed video dousing nonviolent protesters with pepper-spray. Occupy members insist that incidents of violence and law-breaking have been the isolated work of agitators.
Organized labor and Democrats have supported the protests almost from their earliest beginnings. In October, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted an email asking Democrats to sign a petition in support of the group, pledging “we’re not going to let the richest 1 percent force draconian economic policies and massive cuts to crucial programs on Main Street Americans.”
President Obama himself remarked: “The protesters are giving voice to more broad-based frustrations about how our financial system works,” he told his audience. “The American people understand that not everybody’s been following the rules, that Wall Street is an example of that.”
Also, on Oct. 9, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on ABC's “This Week” that she was in favor of the demonstrations.
“I support the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen,” Pelosi said. “We cannot continue in a way this is not relevant to their lives.”
One prominent Democrat, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, even claims to have laid the “intellectual foundation” for the Occupy protests.
In other remarks on Tuesday, President Obama blamed the breakdown in the supercommittee debt negotiations on Republican unwillingness to go along with tax hikes on the wealthy.
This month, Newsmax asked Kenneth Duberstein, who served as White House chief of staff under former President Ronald Reagan, whether he believes Obama’s sharper rhetoric is merely a political strategy, or actually reflects his views.
“I think this is who he is,” said Duberstein, “and it has a political tone to it because he sees that as his only way to have a shot at re-election . . . is to divide and to demonize rather than get people to work together and be able to compromise. You can talk all you want about reaching out, but the last two and a half years, somehow, he has made compromise a four-letter word in Washington.”
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