The similarities between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement are too great to ignore. Both are populist responses to a perceived coziness between government and big business. Both are fed by the frustration and suffering created by economic hardship. Most importantly, both began as grassroots movements but later gained significant institutional support from the establishment from corporations, interest groups, political parties or labor unions.
Predictably, progressives aren't quick to acknowledge the similarities. Nor are my conservative friends at The Daily Page. The responses I received on Twitter when I posed the question were typical of ideologues who cannot fathom that they share values with their political enemies. "Um, no. corporate-financed infrastructure to derail sensible energy policy and stall health care reform absent in #occupywallst," reported Scot Ross, the head of One Wisconsin Now. "Didn't #occupywallst reject Dem support," tweeted State Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison).
Both Ross and Hulsey are correct. But they're ignoring the important stuff and focusing on trivial details.
Sure, one is right-wing and one is left-wing, so they have different interpretations of what is wrong with the country and different solutions for the problems. But both seem to agree that there is something fundamentally unfair going on; that the rules to the game of the American economy and political process have been changed at their expense. In both instances, the protesters are advocating a return to an idealized past, whether it be one in which American workers had secure retirements or one in which government was small and taxes were low.
Ross and others insist the Tea Party was an astroturf movement, designed by corporate front groups. I don't think so, but the origins of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are not as important as their evolution. Both began as a group of people on the extreme end of the ideological spectrum and then gained support and power from the establishment. The Tea Party continued to insist it was "non-partisan" while it promoted Republican candidates and accepted support from GOP groups, while Occupy Wall Street is now gaining the support of many Democratic officials and major unions.
As both groups have gained establishment support, their cause broadens, from a few narrowly defined goals, such as opposing the bailout or campaign finance reform, to a big-tent ideological movement. While many of the Tea Party die-hards are Ron Paul die-hards who oppose the Patriot Act and the War on Drugs, the people getting on stage at the events are more likely to be mainstream Republicans, whose platforms have little to do with its libertarian origins. Similarly, Democrats clearly see the Occupy Wall Street movement as a resource to use to their advantage.
To see how left-wing and right-wing movements can run parallel or even overlap, just look at the development of far right parties in Europe. In many instances, extreme right populist movements drew much of their support from former communist voters after the fall of the Soviet Union. Like communists, far right populists like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France offered people who felt overwhelmed by a complex global economy a promise that they could return the country to a simpler, more fair system.
In the U.S. we see the marriage of those two separate political philosophies in figures such as Lou Dobbs, who appeals to left-wing anti-business sentiment as well as right-wing fears of immigrants.
I have no idea what will become of Occupy Wall Street, but if I had to guess, I think it will follow the path of the Wisconsin Capitol protest movement, in that it will eventually be absorbed into the Democratic Party apparatus and be used to mobilize young, progressive voters for President Obama's re-election.
What think you, Sconz Nation?
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