By Scott McCleskey

Nov. 29 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - If you didn’t know any different, you’d think the Occupy Wall Street movement was the kind of military operation so often criticized by people of a certain political temperament. It started off with a clear mission (financial reform), then suffered from mission creep (economic justice) and it never had an exit strategy. I think there was a surge in there somewhere as well but it’s hard to tell when they all live in tents.

The shame is that they had a point, in the beginning. Reforming the financial system is a gravely serious priority that is losing momentum. But by opening its arms to all who feel oppressed, repressed or suppressed, the inevitable result of the Occupy movement was that the original issue was lost in the noise. And as the movement begins to wind down it is likely to miss its greatest opportunity – to become the Tea Party of the Left.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Tea Party has been successful in grabbing the microphone and framing much of the conservative agenda. It may represent only a minority of Republican voters, but it will undoubtedly influence the outcome of the party’s nomination process and its 2012 platform. It does so by focusing on a few core issues, and has accomplished all this without an organized structure or dominant leader.

What’s to keep the Occupy Wall Street crowd from doing the same? The Democrats could use a good issue to rally around these days. The more level-headed Occupiers could give them one, by putting financial reform back on the forefront of the political debate and casting it in the interests of the broad American public. This would not only benefit an incumbent president whose weak approval ratings endanger his reelection prospects, but would actually move the Occupiers closer to the goal they started with as well.

To pull this off, they need credibility. That means jettisoning some of the nuttier proposals that bear the OWS imprint, like free universal college education and legalized marijuana. It also means no more blocking the port of Oakland, occupying the New York subway and other publicity-seeking tactics. Such tactics are doomed to fail because they appeal only to the protesters themselves, and annoy everyone else. Financial reform is a complex and serious issue, and will be advanced through the political process, not by sitting around in a park munching on organic locally sourced fair-trade vegan hemp muffins.