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Occupy Wall Street: Which part is 'un-American,' the free speech or the peaceful assembly?

Herman Cain, the businessman who has recently vaulted to the top ranks of Republican presidential contenders, has been blasting the Occupy Wall Street protesters as "un-American" people who are just jealous that they aren't rich like the bankers they're criticizing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Mr. Cain said that although he didn't "have the facts to back this up," he believed the protests were an organized plot to "distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration." On CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, he said that "to be angry at somebody because they're successful is anti-American," as is any protest of bankers and Wall Street. "Why be mad that you don't have a job at the bankers and Wall Street? They're the ones who create the jobs."

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and fellow Republican presidential candidate, appeared with Mr. Cain on Face the Nation and chimed in that "the sad thing is this is a natural product of [President] Obama's class warfare." He added that "we have a strain of hostility to free enterprise and a strain of hostility to classic America" that is being taught in schools and colleges.

Which part of the protests do these GOP eminences find so objectionable, is it the free speech or the peaceful assembly? Would the protests be more American if, as did Republican Senate candidate and tea party darling Sharon Angle, they suggested seeking change through an exercise of the Second Amendment as well as the First?

Mr. Cain compalins that the protesters should be picketing the White House instead of Wall Street. News flash: They're at the White House, too. One of them was arrested this weekend for throwing a shoe at a uniformed police officer (though organizers say he was trying to throw it over the White House fence but missed). And indeed, unions have flocked to the Occupy Wall Street cause, as Mr. Cain suggests, but it's unclear why he finds that so much more objectionable than the corporate money that has helped fuel the tea party.

The only thing un-American here is calling it un-American for people to engage in the political process. That was wrong when former House speaker Nancy Pelosi used the term to describe protesters at health care reform town hall meetings two years ago, and it's wrong now.

--Andrew A. Green

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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