The Occupy Wall Street protests that began in mid-September as a small group of demonstrators camped out near the New York Stock Exchange has spread around the country and grown into a movement large enough to catch the attention of the White House and a slew of candidates vying to win the presidency.
Though the movement has been described as a left-wing counterpoint to the Tea Party activists, protesters by-and-large blame both major parties for the policies and political gridlock they say protects corporate America at the expense of the middle class and poor.
Over the past few weeks several Republican presidential contenders, as well as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, have chimed in on the conversation.
Check out their reactions in the slideshow below and vote on the most appropriate response:
Speaking to small crowd at a retirement community in Florida on Oct. 4, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed an unsympathetic view of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "I think it's dangerous, this class warfare," he said. Romney declined to comment further when asked about the protests by ABC. His response? "I'm just trying to get myself to occupy the White House." During a campaign stop in New Hampshire Oct. 10 Romney was a bit more sympathetic. "I worry about the 99 percent in America," he said, later adding, "I understand how those people feel."
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has also taken a hard stance on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal , the former businessman suggested the protests were driven by "anti-capitalism." "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!" Cain said. "It is not a person's fault if they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed." He suggested the demonstrations were planned "to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration." Cain later continued his criticism, calling the protests "un-American." The Associated Press reported, "Cain said the protesters shouldn't rally against Wall Street bankers or brokers because 'they're the ones who create the jobs.'" On CBS' "Face the Nation" Oct. 9, Cain stepped up his criticism even further, calling protesters "jealous" Americans who "play the victim card" and want to take "somebody else's Cadillac."
Buddy Roemer, a lesser-known Republican presidential candidate who's been kept out of the GOP debates and largely out of the media until this point, was the first candidate to fully support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Roemer's support is in keeping with his political views, particularly on campaign-finance reform, where he opposes donations from "big money," Wall Street or special interests. Roemer's campaign released a statement of support on Oct. 5: Please know that I stand by you ... It is Main Street that creates the majority of jobs in America; it is Main Street that sends our brave young men and women to war; it is Main Street that hurts when another manufacturing plant closes only to be re-opened in China; it is Main Street that is being foreclosed on; and it is Main Street that is suffering while the greed of Wall Street continues to hurt our middle-class ... Wall Street grew to be a source of capital for growing companies. It has become something else: A facilitator for greed and for the selling of American jobs. Enough already. Roemer later announced via Twitter that he plans to actually join the protest, on Oct. 11 in New York. The candidate tweeted: "I am concerned and outraged, as are many, at Wall Street greed. I will be joining Occupy Wall Street NYC Tuesday to see it firsthand. #ows
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, a long-time critic of the Federal Reserve, indicated support for the Occupy Wall Street protesters early in the movement, after a town hall-style meeting Sept. 30 in New Hampshire. "If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed -- I would say, good!" Paul told Reason magazine. Paul later elaborated on his stance. Speaking to the National Press Club on Oct. 5, he called the protests a "legitimate effort." "I can't speak for the people out there because I don't know who they are or exactly what they are demonstrating against," Paul said. "I can argue the case for their right to express their outright frustration with what's going on." The Republican hopeful referred to his writings on economic policy over the last several years. "I think that civil disobedience, if everybody knows exactly what they are doing, is a legitimate effort. It's been done in this country for many grievances."
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann weighed in on the Occupy Wall Street movement on Oct. 9, after having gone by one of the protests in Washington D.C. a couple days before. Appearing on CNN, she suggested the demonstrators should be targeting the president, not Wall Street. "I don't know how spontaneous these protests were, but it seems to be that their anger should be directed at the White House. Because Barack Obama's policies have put us in one of the worst tailspins, economically, that we have," Bachmann said. "And maybe that's why the protest that I saw was within shouting distance of the White House."
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, appearing on CBS on Oct. 9 with fellow contender Herman Cain, argued the Occupy Wall Street protests were "a natural product of Obama's class warfare." Gingrich said there's been a strain of hostility toward free enterprise, and even traditional America, that starts with academic institutions. "I regard the Wall Street protest as a natural outcome of a bad education system, teaching them really dumb ideas." During the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire Oct. 12, Gingrich said the Wall Street protesters and the American public have a right to be angry: I think the people who are protesting in Wall Street break into two groups: one is left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic, and the other is sincere middle-class people who frankly are very close to the Tea Party people who care. And actually...you can tell which are which. The people who are decent, responsible citizens pick up after themselves. The people who are just out there as activists trash the place and walk off and are proud of having trashed it, so let's draw that distinction. The former House Speaker suggested people should direct that anger not toward Wall Street but toward government officials. Gingrich asserted that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should be fired, and the top Democrats behind the Wall Street reform legislation -- Rep. Barney Frank and former Sen. Chris Dodd -- should be jailed.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum stood behind the Occupy Wall Street movement Friday, telling The Huffington Post that, "you create a moral hazard in the future when you allow people who did things that are clearly illegal and immoral to get away with it and be compensated richly for it." Santorum said he understands the frustration of the Wall Street protesters, even comparing it to the anger from Tea Party members. Yet, he says the solutions to the economy that the two groups would offer are different. I think the solution that the Occupy Wall Street folks would have is much more intrusive government involvement where I think the Tea Party would say, "No, the answer is, the problem was intrusiveness and the fact that the government didn't regulate in the proper way and in fact, had regulations that allowed things like this to happen."
Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman took a more supportive view on the Occupy Wall Street protests than many of the other Republican contenders. "The same angst and anger that gave rise to the tea party movement, the same angst and anger that gave rise when I was much younger to an anti-war movement in the late 60s" is behind the protests, Huntsman said after a town hall meeting Oct. 9. "I think every generation, you have issues that compel people to stand up and who want to try to find solutions." Huntsman commented on the movements again two days later while speaking on NPR's On Point. "I have to say that some of what they're talking about, lot of Americans, I think, are sympathetic with," he said. "Trillions and trillions of dollars spent, with nothing to show for it in terms of any uplift in our economy." Huntsman told The Huffington Post after a talk in New Hampshire Oct. 11, "There is angst and there is anger and there is frustration in large measure because of the trillions that was spent to little effect. There is a lot out there that people on all ends of politics are very angry and concerned about."
Vice President Joe Biden's initial take on the Occupy Wall Street protests came in the form of a confused response on a local Florida radio station on Oct. 4. When asked to weigh in on the movement in conjunction with his views on the Tea Party, Biden said, "Well, you know look, I really don't know about the Van Jones group except what I read in the press. ... I think the Tea Party and the Van Jones folks are different halves of the same concern." (Jones, the former "Green Czar" for the Obama administration, launched Rebuild the Dream along with MoveOn.org -- a campaign designed to counteract the Tea Party's Contract for the American Dream.) Biden continued, "There's an overwhelming frustration. There's a great frustration here in America that the two parties haven't been able to get very much moving. We have been in this period where there's just nothing, but fighting." Two days later at the Ideas Forum in Washington, DC, NBC's David Gregory asked the vice president if he stands in solidarity with the protesters. Biden responded, "Look, that's a really fair question. Let's be honest with one another. What is the core of that protest? The core is: The bargain has been breached. The core is, the American people do not think the system is fair, or on the level. That is the core is what you're seeing with Wall Street. Look, there's a lot in common with the Tea Party. The Tea Party started, why? TARP. They thought it was unfair." A recent announcement from Bank of America that it will be charging customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit cards if furthering protesters' anger. Biden said he can't blame people for feeling "frustrated" and criticized the bank's fees as the type of "tone deaf" move that the public is angry about, HuffPost Amanda Terkel reports.
Speaking at a press conference Oct. 6 to urge congress to pass his jobs bill, President Barack Obama weighed in on the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying the protests express the frustrations of the American people. "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 president told reporters. "The protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration with how our finance sector works ... The American people understand that not everybody's been following the rules."
Voices from the Oct. 5 Occupy Wall Street march from Zuccotti Park to Foley Square in New York City's financial district.
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