Obama Places MLK on the Side of Occupy Wall Street

“We forget now, but during his life, Dr. King wasn’t always considered a unifying figure. Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many, denounced as a rabble rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical.”

-- Nobel Peace Price winner President Obama at the dedication of the Marin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where he talked about those who “rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street” and his own calls for more government spending and higher taxes on top earners.

They’ve been occupying Wall Street for a month now and organizers can be happy to know that support for their movement has become a core view for the Democratic Party and for a president desperate to recreate the same enthusiasm on the left that launched him into the White House.

Republicans faced a similar dilemma in 2009 when their own team had just suffered the second of two repudiating elections and their own base was angry over the deviations from conservative orthodoxy from the previous eight years. The Tea Party offered energy and clear views for a party that lacked both.

Following the wave election of 2008 it was an open question if the only way forward for Republicans was to embrace a Tory style view of political opposition – not arguing about whether there should be a welfare state but offering ways to make it more efficient and more effective. Think David Brooks, “compassionate conservatism” and free prescription drugs for seniors.

But the protests that sprang up around Tax Day 2009 were not of that school. They were preaching Goldwater’s old-time religion of rolling back the state’s power and screaming for a return to constitutional concepts. It wasn’t the way that many in the Washington/New York corridor wanted to go, but since it’s hard to have a party without supporters, the GOP leadership eventually got on board. Rather than Republican lite, the GOP embraced the idea of 100-proof conservatism in the Obama era.

But it didn’t happen all at once and it took time before Republican leaders got on board. There were risks involved with identifying their party with a protest movement, especially one that was frequently described and racist and radical. But the August 2009 congressional town halls proved to the GOP grandees that they had better get on board or get rolled over.

By then, the movement had also shown it was not dominated by kooks or tolerant of ugliness.

For Democrats, though, the decision to embrace Occupy Wall Street has been swift and fairly complete.

Listen to President Obama at the dedication of the Martin Luther King monument:

“As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as ‘divisive.’ They’ll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing. Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all; that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.”

The president strongly identified himself and his call for more government spending and higher taxes on top earners with the folks sleeping on the streets who were called into action first by a left-wing magazine in Canada.

After one month in action, Occupy Wall Street has become the toast of the Democratic Party, even receiving praise from the president in a speech at the dedication of one of his personal idols, Martin Luther King. David Axelrod made it clear that the movement would have its voice expressed in the fall campaign next year. Congressional Democrats are growing more effusive in their praise.