Obama speech interrupted, re-endorses Occupy after month of silence

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

When Occupy protesters interrupted his Nov. 22 campaign trail speech at a high school in Manchester, N.H., President Barack Obama declared that, “Young people like the ones here today, including the ones who were just chanting at me —you’re the reason I ran for office in the first place.”

Obama’s unscheduled Nov. 22 endorsement of the Occupy protesters broke his deputies’ month-long silence on the increasingly controversial group.

For almost six weeks, Obama’s officials had not endorsed the groups’ actions, offering only bland answers when asked by reporters for comment.


The movement garnered much favorable media coverage in October, prompting initial endorsements in mid-October by Obama and his two leading election advisers.

But since then, the Occupy encampments have been the scenes of several murders, rapes, diseases, assaults and riots.

Those events have badly hurt the movement’s approval, especially among the middle-class swing-voters Obama needs to court. (RELATED: Obama pursues working-class white voters)

A mid-November survey by Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling showed that only 33 percent of Americans supported the movement, while opposition rose from 34 percent to 45 percent since October. Among swing voters, the survey showed a 13 point shift against the movement, and support fell to 34 percent while opposition rose to 42 percent.

The shift has also been documented in regional polls. Twenty percent of likely voters in Fort Wayne, Ind., for example, viewed the Occupy movement favorably, while 32 percent had a favorable view of the Tea Party movement, according to a survey released Nov. 20 by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

Since October, White House spokesman Jay Carney has not mentioned the movement, and has responded to reporters’ questions with noncommittal comments.

On Nov 15, when Carney was asked about the efforts by city governments to clear Occupy campsites from public parks, Carney said it was not the White House’s problem. “The president’s position is that obviously every municipality has to make its own decisions … [and balance] freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in this country [with] … the very important need to maintain law and order and health and safety standards.”

That’s a very different tone from mid-October, when Obama carefully endorsed the movement in his speech at the commemoration of the new national monument to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.

The civil rights leader, Obama said, would agree that “the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there.”

That weekend, Obama’s two most senior election advisers strongly supported the movement.

David Plouffe, Obama’s chief political adviser, said in a Washington Post interview that “we intend to make it one of the central elements of the campaign next year.” His 2012 campaign manager, David Axelrod, that same weekend said that the protesters “want a financial system that works on the level. They want to get a fair shake.”

Since then, neither Plouffe nor Axelrod has publicly applauded the movement.

Obama’s Nov. 22 endorsement may give Republicans another tools to tie Obama to the turbulent Occupy movement. (RELATED: Norquist: Occupy movement ‘will be very helpful in 2012’ [VIDEO])

“That’s okay. Alright, okay guys… it’s okay,” Obama said when he was interrupted. “I appreciate you guys making your point, let me go ahead and make mine, alright? I’ll listen to you, you listen to me, okay?,” he said, before adding, “You’re the reason I ran for office in the first place.”

Obama’s supporters tried to drown out the controversial Occupy protesters by chanting “Obama, Obama.”

Democratic progressives in Congress have been more supportive of the Occupy movement, and remain so.

On October 6, Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi enthusiastically endorsed the movement: “God bless them. … It’s independent … it’s young, it’s spontaneous and it’s focused. And it’s going to be effective,” she said.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 22 that Pelosi’s fundraisers recently sent out a message that included news that a public relations firm solicited contracts from the banking industry to damage the protester’s approval. “This just-leaked memo details an $850,000 ‘message war’ plan to attack and discredit grassroots citizen movements working to hold special interests accountable,” read the Democratic appeal.

Follow Neil on Twitter