A majority now see Barack Obama as a one-term president and he calls himself the “underdog,” but social networks may be changing the political landscape for 2012 in a way that the new medium of television did during the “youthquake” of the 1960s.
What started as a small disorganized rally on Wall Street three weeks ago is spreading to Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere into a movement.
“With little organization and a reliance on Facebook, Twitter and Google groups to share methods,” the New York Times reports, “the Occupy Wall Street campaign...has clearly tapped into a deep vein of anger, experts in social movements said, bringing longtime crusaders against globalization and professional anarchists together with younger people frustrated by poor job prospects.”
Back in the 1960s, TV made Americans previously politically voiceless and unseen—-women, racial minorities and especially youth-—visible to one another and to the nation as a whole. Power, which had been concentrated in a Washington establishment, was suddenly available to all who flooded the landscape with “body rhetoric” at rallies, protests and street theater for network cameras.
Now, as the Arab spring has shown, social networks can do the same even in entrenched autocracies. An American autumn is stirring against corporate power, bankers and the Tea Party zealotry that is holding Washington hostage during an economic crisis.
The problem with such pushback is that it looks chaotic—-and it often is—-but once started, it can take on a life of its own. While it may come in time to help the Obama reelection campaign, the groundswell will inevitably be prodding the President off his moderate pedestal, if he is to help lead it.
Asked about the Occupy Wall Street protests, the White House responds that “to the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand.”
But it will take more than cautious sympathy on the part of the President, it will take real leadership. As unrest starts to crystalize into resistance to the Tea Party’s hostile takeover of the American government, Barack Obama will have to start remembering what happened to Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and start showing that an underdog can be a pit bull when it counts.