Obama's chief of staff: I'm not sure these Wall Street protests are helpful to us

They aren’t. Yet.

After the speech, I asked Daley about Occupy Wall Street. Why not? I asked if it was helpful to the White House, in its current jobs bill campaign, to have economic angst protests in dozens of cities.

“I don’t know if it’s helpful,” he said. “I wouldn’t characterize it that way. Look it: People express their opinions. In the new social network world, they can do it pretty effectively outside the normal way, historically, people have done it. So whether it’s helpful to us, or helpful for people to understand in the political system that there are a lot of people out there concerned about the economy — I know the focus is on Wall Street, but it’s a broader discussion that we’re having.” He pointed to Sam Stein, who’d been asking about supercommittee negotiations. “Part of the thing here, about a balanced approach — I think people want to see fairness in the system.”

They’re helpful insofar as anything that shifts economic blame from The One to anyone else — Wall Street, Eric Cantor, those darned tea-party wingnuts — is helpful. The problem for the White House is that these people very much aren’t ready for their media close-up yet; if you doubt that, read this dynamite little piece from TNR posted a few days ago. “Blame the banks, not Obama!” is exactly what O wants to see on TV, but not coming out of the mouth of a hippie so caricaturish that he looks like he might have stepped out of a Weekly Standard cover. All that does is play into the GOP’s talking points about O’s agenda being a trojan horse for socialism. What they need is — ta da — some better “messaging,” stat. Tell ’em, Michael Tomasky!

I want to stipulate up front that I am firmly on OWS’s side. I don’t really know who its leaders are, and I don’t especially care. I don’t know its exact goals—a subject on which the movement has been roundly, and in my view pointlessly, criticized. But it is desperately needed. It needs to succeed. And I fear it won’t. To succeed, it would have to model itself on 1963, not 1968. And I’m not confident that any left-wing protest movement today can understand that…

And this is where today’s protesters need to steal a page from the Tea Party activists. I beg, plead, implore, importune: Get some spokespeople out there for the cause who are just regular Americans. Don’t send Van Jones out there to be the public face of this movement. I happen to have a high opinion of Van Jones personally. He’s dedicated his life to justice in a higher-stakes way than I have. But any movement that is led by someone who was forced to resign from the White House and who signed a 9/11 truther petition will be dismissed by the mainstream media as left-wing and elitist in three seconds. You may like that or not like that, but it’s true.

In other words, as Jonah Goldberg puts it, “Put normal-looking people out front to convince Americans that Occupy Wall Street is something it isn’t.” That’s a nifty piece of snark, but that’s exactly what Democrats have in mind: The sooner they can coopt the movement and turn it from what it is (a grab bag of hard-left/anarchist grievances against capitalism) into what it isn’t (a mainstream union-backed expression of support of Obama’s “tax the rich” agenda), the sooner Daley can pronounce the protests helpful after all. Some Democrats have already begun the process, in fact. Said Louise Slaughter, “It’s time for all Americans to pay their fair share. And I’m so proud to see the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to this rampant corporate greed and peacefully participating in our democracy.” Is that what the fringe that’s been camping out in the park is all about? People paying their “fair share”? Huh.

Two clips for you here, one (via Greg Hengler) of CNN trying to make sense of the protesters’ agenda and the other (via the Corner) of a little Truther-y zest in the social-justice stew. (Remember, per the media’s coverage of the tea party, it’s always fair to paint an entire movement with the worst excesses of its slimiest participants.) If you’re not up for video, though, read this sharp take by Red State’s Leon Wolf on OWS and the economic retrenchment going on across the country since the financial crisis struck. The truth is simply too terrible to face — on both sides.

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