Sometimes the best confrontations are those that fail to materialize.
That was what happened last weekend when the rag-tag rebels associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement were preparing for a violent clash with police over plans to clean up the mess piling up in Zuccotti Park. The park’s private owner, Brookfield Properties, and Mayor Bloomberg’s office wisely chose to drop the clean-up.
The demonstrators interpreted the move as a victory, but it was nothing of the sort. City Hall’s choice of discretion over chaos meant that there would be no video of demonstrators being hauled off by cops in riot gear, no staged conflicts between unarmed protestors and the police.
That would have been a publicity bonanza for the protestors. Carefully edited video would have gone viral in a matter of minutes, and similarly minded crowds in other cities would have been inspired to provoke similar confrontations with the authorities.
Instead, the weekend was peaceful even as conditions inside the park and the surrounding area continue to deteriorate. If that’s how the protesters wish to live (at least until the first sign of snow), that’s their business. The city should not even contemplate another clean-up plan until the last protester leaves.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how President Obama develops his position on the incoherent movement that claims to speak for 99 percent of the nation’s citizens. Desperate to stir up anything resembling passion, the president has hinted that his re-election campaign will echo Occupy Wall Street’s demagogic attacks on bankers, the wealthy and anybody else who can be blamed for the global economy’s stagnation.
Of course, the president himself hasn’t exactly been a force for economic growth and job creation. But as he prepares for a difficult reelection campaign, Mr. Obama needs to point fingers and deflect blame for all the failed promise of the past three years.
The White House seems eager to co-opt the demonstrations in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere as part of its re-election strategy. If so, Mr. Obama will only further divide a discontented and frustrated nation. The country doesn’t need political opportunism. It needs leadership.
Pandering to the protesters will achieve nothing. Neither will a forced confrontation with a crowd that is certain to dwindle within a few weeks.
Leadership and wisdom, on the other hand, might actually get us back in the right direction.