Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
UPDATE: The debate over the Occupy Wall Street protests took on a harsh tenor Friday, with Republican leader Rep. Eric Cantor denouncing the demonstrators as “mobs” and slamming President Obama for allegedly encouraging them.
“This administration's failed policies have resulted in an assault on many of our nation's bedrock principles,” he said. “If you read the newspapers today, I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans.” CBS News has video of his statement, delivered at a conservative “Values Voter Summit” in Washington.
Cantor’s remarks came a day after President Obama mentioned the protests sympathetically. In a news conference Thursday, he said, “I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country ... and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place.”
The dust-up makes it clear the protests are evolving into fodder for a partisan battle in Washington, even as some of the protesters insist the movement is independent of the major parties. “We are nonpartisan—we have said from the beginning that we will stay independent,” an organizer told the New York Times on Thursday.
Cantor isn’t the only one railing against the demonstrations. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called them “class warfare” and “dangerous,” and his rival Herman Cain dismissed them, saying “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks—if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports that longshot presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said something quite similar to what Cantor criticized Obama for saying: “I certainly understand the frustration.” Santorum added, “I think the answers they have with respect to solve that problem, I would go in a different direction.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent and a billionaire, lodged his own complaints about the protesters on Friday, the New York Post reports: "What they're trying to do is take the jobs away from people working in this city… They're trying to take away the tax base we have because none of this is good for tourism."
POST on Thursday at 5:39 p.m.: Are the Occupy Wall Street protests on their way to becoming a more liberal version of the Tea Party movement?
On Thursday, the protests that began in New York three weeks ago continued to spread across the country, with demonstrations either under way or planned in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Houston and Austin, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Trenton and Jersey City, N.J., among other cities, according to Reuters.
As they spread, the once-grassroots protests are getting encouragement from some very mainstream quarters, including prominent academics, President Obama, and now, even an official from the Federal Reserve. Reuters reports that Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told a business group, “I am somewhat sympathetic—that will shock you.”
Vice President Joe Biden made the Tea Party comparison explicit, saying the two movements had “a lot in common,” the Los Angeles Times reports (video included). In both cases, Biden noted, people were rebelling against what they perceive as unfair collusion between government and Wall Street.
The New York protests remain the most contentious, with police arresting 23 demonstrators there on Wednesday, the New York Times reports. Violent clashes between cops and protesters continued to spark controversy, with the New York Daily News posting a video of an officer bragging, “My little nightstick’s gonna get a workout tonight.”
Meanwhile, “a couple hundred” protesters began an “occupation” of Washington, D.C.’s Freedom Plaza on Thursday, according to the Washington Post. They have vowed to stay there indefinitely, as New York’s protesters have done in Zuccotti Park, but they only have a permit to stay until Sunday. CNN points out that New York’s demonstrators have been aided by the fact that they’re inhabiting a privately owned park, not public property.
One big difference from the Tea Party: The protests have gotten a huge boost from organized labor, which the Tea Party has strongly opposed. The ranks of demonstrators swelled Wednesday largely because of union involvement, ABC News points out.