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When I said that it was the job of policy intellectuals to fill in the details for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, I didn’t mean “don’t worry your pretty little heads about it, we’ll work it out.” I meant job literally as in responsibility: people like Joe Stiglitz and me have an obligation to work on this, helping to translate what justifiably angry citizens are saying into more fleshed-out proposals.
When the Tea Party started, left-wing commentators had accused it of being racist, violent, and extreme. It turned out that Krugman’s Army was vulnerable to these accusations too. At protests that centered on scapegoating “the rich,” “bankers” and “the 1%,” it wasn’t hard to find overt expressions of anti-Semitism. A political scientist wrote approvingly on the Times website that the Occupiers were engaged in “political disobedience,” meaning that they reject the very legitimacy of the U.S. government. London’s Daily Mail even snapped a photo of a protester defecating on a New York City police car. Krugman, who once made up lies about “eliminationist rhetoric” on the right, found himself commanding an army whose soldiers were engaged in actual elimination.
IT WOULD BE unfair to make too much of these unattractive qualities. I spent a couple of hours at Occupy Wall Street one Saturday night in mid-October, and most of the people I encountered were endearingly earnest. Many were college students or recent graduates, and it occurred to me that four years earlier they probably would have been plumping for Barack Obama and his vaporous promises of “hope and change.”
Nobody at the protest seemed excited about the prospect of a second Obama term, and it’s easy to see why. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, an actual left-wing dissenter, noted, Obama has raised more campaign contributions from people in the financial industry than any political candidate in history. “Would it not be a bit odd,” Greenwald asked, “for a protest movement to ‘Occupy Wall Street’ while simultaneously devoting itself to keeping Wall Street’s most lavishly funded politician in power?”
The Obama campaign reportedly expects just that. “Obama and his team have decided to turn public anger at Wall Street into a central tenet of their reelection strategy,” the Washington Post reported. The paper noted that “Obama has tried this line of attack before, railing in 2009 against ‘fat-cat bankers’ who he accused of taking excessive bonuses in the wake of the financial meltdown.” It might have added that he has spent much of his presidency demonizing “corporate jet owners,” “millionaires and billionaires,” and so forth, to little avail.
But you can see why the Obama campaign might think that the president’s class-warfare message was finally catching on. Across the nation, there was arising a spontaneous populist movement, a left-wing version of the Tea Party. Or at least that’s what it said in the papers.