The Biggest Difference Between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

I started my observations about these two movements a month ago with a point of conciliatory commonality–their shared opposition to undue influence by rich special interests in politics, whether left or right.  However, after two months of Occupy Wall Street, the most stunning thing about these two movements is how their core is starkly contrasted.

Tea Party protests usually had a “vote the bums out” message–their signs and speakers focused on what those in the crowd should do.  Occupiers, however, seem focused on what others should do for them–their signs and speakers are about the demands they have for what “the rich” should be providing them with (student loan debt relief appears to be a big one).

This is a broad generalization, of course, but a useful one.  While there are certainly Tea Party protesters who want government to do things for them, even those things are more limited and more for the benefit of others than what Occupiers demand for themselves.  Decreasing spending so that future generations of taxpayers won’t be saddled with unpayable debts (as many a Tea Party sign begged, such as at 1:52 in this video from a Las Vegas protest) is a far cry from insisting that “government has a responsibility to guarantee access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement,” as a poll of OWS protesters showed, according to a survey cited on the OWS Wikipedia page.  Rescinding fairly recent policies that exacerbate economic problems strikes me as more restrained and pragmatic than demanding the spontaneous erection of a new infrastructure for a panoply of progressive fantasies.

Consider Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally last year.  Continue reading

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

  • There is, of course, a major strain of thought that connects the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the Tea Party.  Though largely representing opposing sides of the political spectrum, they each have at their core an aversion to corporatism–not necessarily corporations themselves (any OWS protestor who says otherwise is likely a hypocrite), but the political culture of favors, bailouts, pork deals, corporate welfare, etc.  I’d like to see more of a conversation building on this common ground.

 

  • The biggest superficial difference between the two movements seems to be the penchant for violent rhetoric among OWS.  I’m not aware of any actual instances of violence, verbal or otherwise, at tea party rallies, but umpteen such cases have been recorded and broadcasted at OWS protests.  Despite the reputation that the tea party has been stereotyped with in much of the mainstream media as being full of racists and militia-types, one must remember how many would-be infiltrators have been caught and exposed as purposely trying to create that impression (remember the Oregon middle school teacher who foolishly admitted online that he was planning one such act).  I don’t know if OWS has any similar problem, but certainly I haven’t heard of any, and no rowdy hooligans at these rallies seem to be getting alienated by the rest of the crowd, as they were at Tea Party rallies.  Pictures like these, including one of an OWS protester defecating on a police car (warning: graphic), appear pretty authentic, unfortunately.  Those who are complaining about all the arrests accompanying OWS protests might do well to admit that some of these protesters simply aren’t living up to the non-violent heritage of civil disobedience. 

 

Why Liberals Should Like the Tea Party

There is a difference between policy and principle.  People of bright minds and good faith can disagree about policies, but principles are usually pretty universal.  Nobody is really anti-liberty, or anti-charity, but between policy and principle is priority, and that affects how the latter is realized as the former.  That’s where people on the political spectrum differ.  Focusing on foundational principles, though, will help us build on common ground. 

A good example might be what seem to be the most disparate groups in American politics today: the Democratic Party and the Tea Party.  Since the emergence of the Tea Party about three years ago, liberals and their friends in the media have often and openly vilified these conservatives, and largely acted kinder towards the mainstream Republicans that they had previously contested with in the court of public opinion.  Maybe it’s an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing. 

This is unfortunate.  The Tea Party and many liberals have something in common here.  Why does the Tea Party exist?  Because they feel that the mainstream Republican Party has failed them.  (Consider how many mainstream Republicans have jumped on the anti-Tea Party propaganda bandwagon so the kids at the cool table will like them.)  They needed a homemade outlet to protest the betrayal of conservative ideals in exchange for political success. 

So some of their principles might include empowering citizens in their right to petition for redress, and calling for an end to waste and corruption by those in power, by demanding accountability from leaders.  Aren’t these things good people of all political stripes can get behind?  Yes, we can and should debate each other vigorously about fiscal policy, and all kinds of policy, but can we at least recognize when there are underlying principles that we share?

NPR: Fair and Balanced

I actually really like listening to NPR.  Yes, the constant stories about some quirky and/or oppressed little guy vs. some big bad mean corporate entity get a bit tedious, but there’s a lot of good stuff on NPR, and not just the humor shows on Saturday!  (See my Arts entry this Monday for an example.)

Today, I heard two different commentators on the debt ceiling debate say that tea partiers in Congress are “radical extremists” who “nearly brought this country to the edge of ruin” because of their agenda to limit the size of government.  Such hyperbolic character assassination is pretty vile, but these were commentators, not reporters.  One was on The World, the other was on All Things Considered.  Two such insults in one day, almost exactly the same.  Good grief.  I wonder how many other times it was said that I didn’t hear.

On the other hand, that same episode of The World also had a story about tea party foreign policy that was rather gracious; not quite sympathetic, but that wouldn’t be news, either.  It was objective.  It was fair.  Good for them. 

In other news, today, for the first time in history, the credit rating of the United States was lowered by a major agency.  Who saw this coming?  Oh, right, those kooky tea paty nuts.  The next time Uncle Sam wants to borrow a dollar, ask for some collateral.

Two Tea Parties

Today, my two daughters had a tea party over here for their friends.  I was pretty excited when they had the idea–imagine, my precious little girls wanting to voice their concern over bloated government waste and dwindling civil liberties, mildly protesting the financial burden that our leaders’ policies are putting on them.

But, apparently, their idea of a tea party had more to do with sandwiches, fancy dresses, Kool Aid, and Taylor Swift songs.  Alas.

Mr. Smith Goes to the House of Representatives

Jimmy Stewart, as Senator Jeff Smith, reads patriotic documents on the floor of the U.S. Senate in the 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Much has been made of the new Republican majority in the House starting this session by reading aloud the Constitution.  Many articles have noted that, though it’s over 200 years old, this is the first time the Constitution has been read into the record of the House.

However, something similar has happened before in history.  Hollywood history, that is. 

In the patriotic 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, as Jimmy Stewart continues his heroic filibuster to protest his framing by the corrupt politicians who betrayed him, after he reads the Declaration of Independence aloud, he then reads the Constitution.  Granted, this scene is set on the floor of the Senate, not the House, but it’s pretty close. 

This begs the question–if there are those who would criticize reading the Constitution in our Congress meetings, would they also belittle the same thing in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, one of the most universally beloved films in American history? 

I couldn’t find a clip of this on YouTube, but here’s an excerpt from the script:

 PAGE BOY
                         Here you are, Senator, from Miss
                         Saunders.
                              (Hands Jeff the
                              Constitution)

                                     JEFFERSON
                         Oh! Thanks.
                              (The Page Boy shows
                              he still has on his
                              ranger button)
                         Well, the Constitution of the United
                         States–
                              (Reading)
                         Article one–section one.

Rules By Which a Free Republic May Be Reduced To a Socialist One

Despite the scorn leveled at it by the elite mainstream, the Tea Party movement has illustrated something significant about America: we’re fed up with the status quo and its increasing power grabs.  In the last few years, not only have there been Tea Party protests, we’ve also had a popular political tract called Common Sense, and groups calling themselves Sons of Liberty are growing.  The fact that there are so many new things inspired by that volatile time in our history should be sobering for all of us. 

I’d like to offer a humble contribution to this trend. 

On September 11, 1773–the year of the Boston Tea Party–Benjamin Franklin published a satire of England’s poor management of the colonies, presented as twenty pieces of humorous advice for getting rid of them: “Rules By Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced To a Small One.”  Below, I’ve adapted Franklin’s text to include references to current problems.  The scary thing is, I didn’t need to change or add very much at all.  Most of Franklin’s scathing indictment applies just as well to today’s American government as it did to King George’s administration in 1773. 

Make of it what you will, but the fact that Franklin can be so easily adapted to the Tea Party’s concerns should also be very sobering to all of us. 

“Rules By Which a Free Republic May Be Reduced To a Socialist One”

The Founding Fathers accomplished this, that tho’ they were not perfect, they could make a federalist republic out of a chaotic confederacy of former colonies that had been ruled by fascist autocrats. The Science that I, a modern Simpleton, am about to communicate is the very reverse.

I address myself to all Ministers who have the Management of the American Republic, which from its very Freedom is become difficult to govern, because the Degree of its Freedom leaves no Room for Control.

I. In the first Place, Gentlemen, you are to consider, that a free Republic, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges. Turn your Attention therefore first to your remotest States (those on your coasts, like New York, California, &c); that as you deprive them of Freedom, the interior Heartland may follow in Order.

II. That the Possibility of this Control may come to pass, take special Care the interior States are never respected in your public discourse, that they do not enjoy the same common Dignity, the same Privileges in Debate, and that they are governed by severer Political Correctness, all of your enacting, without allowing them any Share in the Choice of the Rules. By carefully making and preserving such Distinctions, you will (to keep to my Simile of the Cake) act like a wise Gingerbread Baker, who, to facilitate a Destruction, cuts his Dough half through in those Places, where, when bak’d, he would have it broken to Pieces.

III.These Freedoms have perhaps been acquired at the sole Expence of the our Ancestors and Military, without the Aid of the Mother Government. If this should happen to increase the People’s Strength by their growing Numbers ready to join in her Wars, and her Commerce by their growing Demand for her Manufactures, they may probably suppose some Merit in this, and that it entitles them to some Favour; you are therefore to forget it all, or resent it as if they had done you Injury. If they happen to be zealous Whigs, Friends of Liberty, Conservatives, or (worst of all) Tea Partiers, nurtur’d in Revolution Principles, remember all that to their Prejudice, and contrive to punish it: For such Principles, after a Revolution is thoroughly established, are of no more Use, they are even odious and abominable.

IV. However peaceably your Citizens have submitted to your Government, you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt, and treat them accordingly. Smear and restrict their Second Amendment rights, and be ever Hostile to those who assert these Rights. By this Means, like the Husband who uses his Wife ill from Suspicion, you may in Time convert your Suspicions into Realities.

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Who Will Write the History of the Tea Party?

During the week after the September 11 attacks, I kept telling myself to take pictures.  I should have taken pictures of the flags on cars and houses, of the patriotic messages on the signs of every fast food restaurant, of the quiet, dignified acts of unity that, even though they filled every open space of our society that week like water rising in a canyon, I knew would disappear quickly, soon, and forever.  We occasionally see footage aired of planes hitting the twin towers, but when was the last time you saw that tape of Congress singing “God Bless America” that afternoon on the steps of the Capitol?  It was a unique time of intense mourning and brotherhood, and was gone almost as soon as it started.

I’ve only ever seen one other thing like it, and I likewise regret not doing something myself to document it.  Throughout January of 2009, as I listened to average citizen after average citizen call in to every talk radio show I listened to, asking how to organize one of these new “tea party” meetings that everyone was talking about, to protest the Bush bailouts and the promised policies of the radical-leftist president-elect, I knew I was listening to something new, and something special. 

Now, you might not like tea parties, those who attend them, or their beliefs, but no one can deny that what we’re seeing is the rise of one of the most spontaneous grassroots movements in history.  In less than two years, tea parties have gone from rag-tag, ad hoc meetings in living rooms and bars to a cohesive (though still officially loose) brotherhood of millions of kindred spirits who are about to take a midterm Congressional election by storm. 

Continue reading

Bill Clinton on the Tea Party

In Las Vegas Tuesday, stumping for Harry Reid, former President Bill Clinton said, “You and I know the only reason this is a tough race is because people are having a tough time. When people are mad, it’s time to think.”

Translation: “If you support Sharron Angle, it’s only because you’re a poor, confused, lost little lamb, dizzy in the head because you can’t handle what’s going on. There, there little lamb. It’s OK. Just let the elites keep taking care of you, and everything will be fine. That’s right, go back to sleep like a good little girl.”

The Left Needs To Make Up Its Mind About Conservative Leadership

Once again, the political and cultural left in this country has been haranguing us with two contradictory mantras this year:

On one hand, conservatives have no official, strong, unifying leadership.

On the other, the massive protests by conservatives are the work of carefully orchestrated planning by scary conservative leaders.

You can’t have it both ways, media!  Either American conservatives have nobody in power representing them effectively, or they not only do have leaders, but leaders who are masterminding an impressive series of unified protests. 

Make up your mind and get back to us.

A Bailout Lesson From The Past

Two days after the nationwide tea party protests, I’m sitting in an office waiting to be called up to the window.  As I pass the time reading, I come across this, during a conversation about hypothetically bailing out failing banks:

“But there’s no reason why any bank should do what you suggest, it never has in the past.  Each bank stands or falls on its own merits, that’s the joy of our free enterprise system.  Such a scheme as you propose would set a dangerous precedent.  It would certainly be impossible to prop up every bank that was mismanaged.”

–James Clavell, Noble House, 1981

Blame Enough To Go Around

So the passage of President Obama’s stimulus package–the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009–has passed, to the tune of $789 billion, and fiscal conservatives around the country are howling mad.  “Tea Party” protests are sweeping the nation.  One blog post I happened across this week featured a graphic of a tombstone for the United States, giving the “death” date as November 4, 2008, the day of Obama’s election.  (You’re late, by the way–I had the same idea months ago.) 

But is that really the day that history will remember as the tipping point towards financial ruin for our republic?  Did Obama suddenly come in and drastically change course for the government, or is he just continuing business as usual? 

Or better yet…where were all those tea party protests before now? 

Where were the protests on October 3, 2008, when the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 ($700 billion) was signed into law?  Shouldn’t that be the date on the tombstone? 

Where were the protests on September 30, 2008, when the “Big Three” automakers got a $25 billion loan? 

Where was the coordinated network of national protests on September 16, 2008, when the Federal Reserve gave insurance giant AIG a $75 billion bailout?

Where were the fiscal conservatives rising up and demanding results on July 30, 2008, when the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 ($300 billion) became law? 

So if we’re going to become especially indignant about Obama’s “porkulus” package, we’re very much a conservative pot calling a liberal kettle black.