Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) — In Florida this week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was asked about the growing Occupy Wall Street movement. “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare,” he said.
Romney’s right. It may be dangerous — to his chances of being elected.
Occupy Wall Street, now almost three weeks old, isn’t like the anti-globalization demonstrations that disrupted summits in the 1990s or even the street actions at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, though some of the same characters are probably in attendance. With unemployed young protesters planning to camp out all winter in Zuccotti Park (with bathrooms available only at a nearby McDonald’s), it’s more like a cross between a Hooverville and Woodstock — the middle-class jobless of the 1930s and the hippie protesters of the 1960s.
With the help of unions and social networking, the movement has at least some chance of re-energizing Democrats in 2012 and pushing back against the phenomenal progress Republicans have made in suppressing voter turnout in several states.
Why? Because the tectonic plates of U.S. politics are shifting in ways we don’t yet fully understand. We don’t know whether Occupy Wall Street is a carnival party — a piece of left-wing street theater that gets old fast — or a nascent political party that revives a long-dormant tradition of class-based politics.
It’s possible that these demonstrations, which have now spread to about 150 cities and campuses, will be hijacked by extremists or dissipated by obnoxiousness; the American left has practice in committing suicide. The whole thing could fade as young people find a better way of hanging out offline.