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Why Occupy Wall Street and Democratic pols aren't exactly pals

A month into the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Democratic Party's embrace of the movement can best be described as friendly, but loose. Both sides, it turns out, are wary of a close alliance.

An Occupy Wall Street campaign demonstrator holds a placard in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in New York on Monday.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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After a month of camping out in Zuccotti Park in the financial district, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are confronted by the same stubborn challenge that has dogged them since Day 1: Can they transition their disparate demands into an element for actual political change – much like the tea party has done?

So far, the Democratic Party’s embrace of the Occupy movement can best be described as friendly, but loose. Many in the party, including President Obama, are mostly just shouting encouragement from the sidelines and still trying to figure whether they can use the group to their advantage next year.

“Obama wants to benefit from the energy in the movement without getting stuck in its entrails,” says Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia.

The risk for the Democrats, says Mr. Sabato, is that they don’t know where the Occupy movement is going. “If you embrace it, you might inherit violence if it occurs and some kooky spinoffs when they occur,” he explains.

For example, he says some of the protesters “make perfect sense” when they talk about how upset they are with Wall Street and the banks. However, he says, at the same time there is an “anarchical element embracing every cause under the sun from antinuclear protesters to people who think Israel is the devil.”

On its website, the group says it is fighting against “the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”

The group itself does not have a single spokesperson but has set up a “PR and Media Working Group” to try to answer journalists’ questions. Sometimes there are no answers.

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