If you've looked at any of the other summits that have taken place-- in London, there were hundreds of thousands on the streets. Mayor and county executive deserve credit for managing a very tranquil summit. Many protests are addressed generically at capitalism. One of great things about the US is you can speak your mind, but I disagree free market is source of all ills. If they'd paid attention to what was going on inside, they would have heard strong recognition that it's important to make sure the market is working for ordinary people and doesn't cause the kinds of crises we had.I just watched the news conference on CNN, and that's a fair summary of what Obama said in response to a question. (UPDATE: I posted the full transcript of the exchange here). The journalist had referred to protesters as people who "oppose the summit" -- so the journalist had set up a straw man. Obama took the bait, and spoke of the protesters as if they were simply "opposed to capitalism." He didn't call the protesters "pinko commies," but he might as well have. "If they'd paid attention to what was going on inside..." Could Obama have come up with a line that sounded any more arrogant than that if he tried?
I don't think Obama gets it. As much as anything, the anger of protesters is directed at the way capitalism has been mismanaged -- or rather not managed at all -- over the past several decades. Obama ought to have acknowledged that in the aftermath of a global economic crisis, protesters have a lot to be concerned about. Obama might have said that citizens of the world need to be vocal in asking how well world leaders are managing the economic recovery, inquiring about the lack of any new financial industry regulations. Had Obama given this kind of a thoughtful response, he would have sounded less like a representative of Singapore or the People's Republic of China, and more like an American president.
Recall President Clinton's remarks in the aftermath of the massive Seattle WTO meeting protests of 1999:
"Those who heard a wake-up call in Seattle got the right message," he said. "I do not agree with those who view with contempt these new forces seeking to be heard in the global dialogue."Today, at least to my ears, Obama came across as one of those who views "with contempt these new forces seeking to be heard in the global dialogue." The president's brazen insensitivity shocked me. Consider the fact that the protesters in Pittsburgh must have included many of the same young people who worked tirelessly throughout 2008 to get Obama elected in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania.
Crucially, Obama appears to have lost touch with the level of frustration -- indeed, anger -- people are feeling with the economic system. Even as businesses move into a period of relative recovery, unemployment remains perilously high, and continues to worsen in most states.
You might want to check out this post: First use of sonic weapons on American citizens
Photo credit: I took the above photo which shows Obama at the G20 in London.