Tea Party vs. OWS

I found this diagram on politico.com, which linked it to this site, belonging to James Sinclair who writes:

Yeah, I’m oversimplifying, but only a little. The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they’re too busy insulting each other to notice.

Mr. Sinclair has a point — not only are the roots of both movements similar, but neither side really sees the true problem, it’s the nexus of corporate and government interests that create the most problems.    Therein lies the possibility of a true alternative to politics as usual.

This doesn’t mean a new third party or some rising independent candidate.   Rather, the two major parties have gotten into a rut.  When the economy was booming and it appeared the US was doing it right through deregulation and lower taxes, the parties got lazy.   Democrats like Bill Clinton embraced Wall Street and an economics team that was more laissez faire than even Reagan’s cohort.    To keep their ‘base’ the Democrats played interest group politics while pushing for programs like an overhaul of the health care system.   They didn’t get much accomplished on that front, but with the times good it didn’t matter.

The Republican party played similar games with social conservatives.  They gave lip service to issues like abortion and gay rights, but overall it was ineffective and just enough to keep the base in line.   So while the spectacle of intense partisan rancor filled the airwaves, the reality was that the two parties were becoming more alike than different.  Issues dear to social conservatives were not prioritized by the GOP, and the Clinton Administration ended up partially dismantling rather than building up social welfare programs.

Perhaps because of the growing ideological convergence of the two parties politics turned to personal stuff.   Did Clinton (or Bush the Younger) evade service in Vietnam unfairly?   Clinton was impeached for nothing he did as President but for an affair with a younger intern.    The personal trumped the substantive in a politics that was more about illusion and spectacle than substance.

During all that time both government and private citizens fell into the debt trap, driven in part by illusions of wealth thanks to the dot com craze and the real estate bubble.  The hypnosis of consumerism blinded people to the decay right before our eyes.   Day trading, flipping real estate and get rich quick schemes trumped hard work and imagination.   But unemployment was low and the GDP rising.   What me worry?

As more money flowed into campaigns a nexus between big business and big government formed.   As the middle class eroded thanks to the decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service sector, only the bubble economy and cheap goods from China prevented people from grasping how their country was changing into something less democratic with leaders less accountable than before.   Then in 2007 the housing bubble burst, starting a period of economic stagnation which turned into crisis in September 2008.

Now the veil’s been lifted from our eyes.   Now we see the corruption on Wall Street, the scandals in government, the links between big money and the Administration, touching both Obama and Bush.   President Obama’s election came because people thought he represented change.   But fearing a revolt from the elites of Wall Street, he embraced the same advisors that worked for Clinton, and took a very establishment approach.

Campaigns now are more marketing than an exchange of ideas.  Candidates are packaged and speak in bland generalities.  They have to, because if they break from the script they might make a gaffe and have it spread until it destroys their candidacy.    Spectacle over substance; illusion over reality.   Talk radio peddles emotion over reason, demonizing and mocking rather than engaging in real political discourse.   Politics becomes a “contact sport,” where one chooses a team and gets into the game, or one takes the view of Dennis DeYoung in his song “I don’t believe in Anything”:

I hate the bloody liberals and the neo-cons, they’re all so full of shit
Oh the way they talk to us, I think they think we’re idiots
What a bunch of hypocrits! 

Obama’s approval ratings are low, but those of Congress are far lower.    We’re in crisis and our political system is unable to respond.   20th Century thinking doesn’t cut it, the bubble years are over, so now what?

Now we have the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street representing two different movements driven by similar concerns.   The Tea Party has lost some of its luster, and no doubt that will happen to OWS as well.   But the two movements signify a desire of the electorate to change the nature of politics in the US.   It should be closer to the people, less bureaucratic, less in service of big corporate interests, and more respectful to average citizens.   Take away the fringe social conservatives on the right and socialists on the left, and you have a broad range of agreement between the two groups.

The agreement is this: big money and big government have gotten too cozy with each other and have too much power.   The only way to counter this is not to dismantle the corporate world and introduce socialism, nor to dismantle government with faith that markets can work magically.    The answer is to increase accountability at all levels by making both government and business decision making transparent.    We need to decentralize power – both governmental and in the private sector.

There will still be fights about proper tax rates, social welfare programs, abortion, gay marriage and all that.   But the potential for agreement on the need to restructure our socio-economic-political system is real.   The left needs to stop defending governments at every turn, the right needs to stop defending big money.   When power is concentrated it is always dangerous, whether in the form of a private corporation or a state.

We have the technology to decentralize and force greater transparency.   One aspect of both the Tea Party and OWS is their ability to use social media to build their movement and get the message out.   The partnership between big government and big money needs to be derailed.  Now if the activists on each “side” can put aside their differences long enough to focus on what they agree upon, maybe both movements can be a force for positive change.

  1. #1 by modestypress on October 20, 2011 - 02:30

    In analyses such as this, there are two big problems.

    What are we against?

    And what are we for?

    It is much easier to focus on what we are against than to describe what we are for. For example, we are against a society based on “greed.” While it is not that easy to define what is “greed,” most of us have a visceral response if we see people who are lacking essentials for survival, and who are hungry, lacking clothes, lacking shelter, lacking health care, etc.

    If we observe people lacking these essentials and we also see people who have for more than is needed for basic survival, who have elaborate meals of rare and expensive foods, luxurious clothes and pelts of endangered species, “MacMansions (elaborate and expensive dwellings, vehicles, etc.), access to elaborate spas and personal decoration, etc. many of us react with “that’s greed.”

    However, it is difficult to describe and design a “fair” society. For example, when my wife and I were young (1960s) we had acquaintances who were hippies. He had a good job; she was our baby sitter. After a while they decided it was easier to leach off society than to work hard, and they went on welfare, with a selfish, callous, “Why not,” attitude.

    On the other hand, I have known people with multiple sclerosis, with crippling handicaps, and other difficult disabilities, who nevertheless worked very hard and as much as possible supported themselves. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable for society to provide for people who suffer from handicaps and diseases. Most of us have an innate and intuitive sense of 1) as much as possible we should work hard and earn our way and 2) as much as possible society should care for and support those people who through no fault of their own suffer setbacks and disabilities.

    The problem is that while it is fairly easy to state these values as generalities and get a lot of agreement on them as principles, they are enormously difficult to get our society to agree on the practical principles to implement them. If people just decide not to work (as our youthful hippie friends), do we let them just starve in the street? Do we compel them to work?

    Many conservatives support non-governmental charity. Evangelicals are happy as long as the charity is voluntary for the givers and lean toward pressuring the recipients to pledge allegiance to the religious beliefs of the donors. Many liberals are enthusiastic on enforcing their values by taxing everyone. While I am not a religious believer nor a conservative, my wife and I consciously limited our family size to 1 child. If another family has ten children and expects free schooling for them all and society to feed them all, should careful, population-limiting people such as us be obligated to pay for the high-breeding family through our taxes? On the other hand, many conservatives would be the first to scream to high heaven if society imposed population control (as is done in China) on the society at large.

  2. #2 by classicliberal2 on October 20, 2011 - 04:03

    Sinclair is a good fellow, and I definitely recommend his blog. I think his notion of common ground between OWS and the teabaggers, however, is simplistic and naive, and I think that very long thread that grew out of his post on this subject demonstrated that.

    The Tea Party, which, while no one has been watching, has been on its way out for a while now anyway, isn’t a “movement”; it is, as it has always been, an astroturf project by certain very powerful interests. It was aimed at harnessing the very real concerns and frustrations widely felt by Americans and directing it against any effort at holding those interests publicly accountable. The Tea Party was made up, at its core (3 important words), of people who

    a) will believe absolutely anything they hear from their Masters (Limbaugh, Fox, the Kochs, Dick Armey, etc.), no matter how ludicrous it may be, and

    b) won’t believe anything anyone else says that contradicts their Masters.

    Talking with, trying to reason with, arguing with the hardest-core teabagger is a waste of time. I’ve wasted an incredible amount of time doing it myself, and probably will in the future, as well. There’s simply no common ground to be found with them as long as they continue to allow Fox, Armey, etc. to do their thinking for them. The many variations on the ideology on which they’ve been sold is fundamentally anti-democratic, and views any effort to use the democratic process to regulate the abuses of the private sector or to limit the influence of private wealth and power as some sort of socialistic government power-grab. In the narrative programmed into them, government aid to the poor leads to totalitarianism. Using the law to regulate finance and prevent another economic collapse leads to Hitler. As they’ve been taught to see it, it’s all just a difference of degrees.

    The good news is that most people–including those who call themselves “Tea Party supporters”–aren’t like that.

    If it turns into a movement with legs, OWS will very quickly absorb the sane from the teabagger ranks, because it’s an actual grassroots movement born of and honestly trying to address those concerns and frustrations, rather than just an effort by the powerful to exploit those things. People sense this–after only a few weeks, it already has between 36% and 54% public support, depending on some polling factors. The highest point the Tea Party ever achieved was 30%, and it took them nearly 18 months.

    Scott, I think you, once again, try to be “moderate” and evenhanded without justification. I certainly don’t think it’s the case that neither “side” understands “it’s the nexus of corporate and government interests that create the most problems.” I think you’ll find the OWS gang has a pretty good handle on that. That is, in fact, pretty much what they’re all about. I’ve never even been able to get a hardcore teabagger to admit that the reason government dispenses favors to powerful interests is because those powerful interests want those favors and purchase the government to get them–the ‘bagger always fall back on abstractions about “centralized government,” and insists the real problem is that government has those favors to dispense in the first place, and that the power to do so should be taken away, as if that was even possible without doing anything to limit the influence of those powerful interests. It’s as if this all happens in a vacuum.

    There isn’t going to be any OWS/teabagger tag-team. The Tea Party is already practically gone now, a consequence of Fox News significantly cutting back its pimping of them in a bid to appear more sane prior to 2012. If OWS has legs, it will absorb a big chunk of the supporters of the Tea Party. I suspect it already has. Then we’ll see what mischief they can cause.

  3. #3 by Ron Byrnes on October 20, 2011 - 16:32

    Insightful analysis as usual Scott. Brings to mind an interview I heard on NPR a few days ago with Lawrence Lessig about his new book, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop it.

  4. #4 by Jeff Lees on October 20, 2011 - 19:55

    I have to agree with Bernard Harcourt that what really distinguishes the Tea Party and OWS is ideology (or lack thereof). Yes the Tea Party is conservative, and OWS is generally liberal, but that’s not the core difference, the core difference is the rejection/embrace of ideology. The Tea Party is the epitome of ideology. They have a very clear ideological world view. OWS, on the other hand, is a post-ideological movement, they’re refusal to posit specific demands attests to this. They don’t have a ideological world view they use to analyze what’s happen (the Tea Party, for example, see it all as government’s fault, and if government was just smaller, everything would work itself out). OWS is a post-ideological reaction to self-apparent economic and social injustices. OWS, like most people, see that what’s been happening is immoral, and they want it to stop. There’s no ideological prescription, OWS rejects giving such “solutions.” And this post-ideological approach does not translate into incoherence, as some commentators have suggested. The righteous rage of OWS is perfectly justified, and this demand that they supply specific policy goals shows how many in the body politic can’t work outside of a ideological framework. A lack of demands is what gives OWS strength. Without demands, it’s not nearly as easy to “spin” the movement. To attack OWS you basically have to defend the injustices that have been happening. But the second they give demands, the dynamic changes. Once they say something like “we support raising taxes on the rich” it’s easy to attack and spin that. Now the protesters are a “bunch of big government liberals,” etc.

  5. #5 by Scott Erb on October 20, 2011 - 20:10

    This is definitely one of those posts where the comments are better than the post! I agree about ideology; one could see the tea party as a reactionary movement while OWS is progressive. Nonetheless many conservatives I talk with, including those very sympathetic to the tea party, are upset with big money and its influence. I think when you get away from the activists there is more common ground. Because it doesn’t push an ideology, OWS is likely to be more open to increasing support than the ideological tea party.

    • #6 by classicliberal2 on October 21, 2011 - 01:57

      Even if OWS does eventually offer up policy prescriptions, it won’t hurt their standing. Addressing the abuses against which they demonstrate is EXTREMELY popular, and the polling has consistently shown that popularity across all party lines (less so with Repubs, it’s true, but not so much less as people think).

  6. #7 by Scott Erb on October 21, 2011 - 13:09

    If you read the conservative press or watch FOX news it’s clear that the right is doing everything in its power to try to paint the movement as just more hippies and socialists, the “ANSWER” crowd, etc. They want this to go away, and they can’t understand why it’s not dissipating like past anti-globalization or anti-war protests. They don’t get it, it’s not what they’re used to, and they can’t seem to spin it to their liking. This could get interesting.

    • #8 by classicliberal2 on October 22, 2011 - 04:15

      The one I found particularly amusing is that the righties went reflexively Rovian on it. One of Rove’s most celebrated tactics is to take away your candidates’ greatest potential weakness by preemptively accusing the other guy of the same thing, regardless of whether there’s any basis for such a charge. The Tea Party was, of course, an astroturf project, manufactured by a handful of powerful interests, and as soon as the OWS protests began to get some press, the righties started throwing this charge at it. But whereas you can follow the money-trail and name names in documenting the origin of the Tea Party, nothing of this sort exists with OWS. There are no big financiers behind it. There are no billionaire industrialists spending a fortune to truck in rent-a-mobs. There’s no 24-hour national news channel openly pimping it. It’s a genuine grassroots uprising. I’ve repeatedly challenged teabaggers to show where this is some sort of phony manufactured movement, and right out of their asses, they start pulling names like Vann Jones (stock Angry Radical Black Man caricature) or George Soros (stock Evil Jew caricature). They can’t even link any of these people to what’s happening, much less show they’re behind it. It’s just a poisonous fantasy that plays in their heads. One of them actually offered, as his “evidence” for Soros being the mastermind (and this is paraphrase): “He’s the one who’s always behind all that bad socialist stuff.”

  7. #9 by Alan Scott on October 22, 2011 - 03:14

    classicliberal2 ,

    ” The many variations on the ideology on which they’ve been sold is fundamentally anti-democratic, and views any effort to use the democratic process to regulate the abuses of the private sector or to limit the influence of private wealth and power as some sort of socialistic government power-grab.”

    Why do you lump all wealthy people together ? Everyone who is richer than you is to blame for all of the economic problems today ? Your impatience with Tea Party types such as myself is amusing .

    • #10 by classicliberal2 on October 22, 2011 - 03:56

      Sorry, I don’t play games with straw men. If, for a change, you have anything of any actual substance to add to the conversation, I’m usually around.

  8. #11 by Alan Scott on October 22, 2011 - 19:45

    classicliberal2 ,

    ” Sorry, I don’t play games with straw men. If, for a change, you have anything of any actual substance to add to the conversation, I’m usually around. ”

    Well then if you are that scared of me that you use a false straw men argument to duck me, being ‘ around ‘ is useless .

  9. #12 by renaissanceguy on October 25, 2011 - 15:57

    Let’s see, we have the same old “you’re group has an ideology, but ours doesn’t.”


  10. #13 by renaissanceguy on October 25, 2011 - 15:57

    Let’s see, we have the same old “your group has an ideology, but ours doesn’t.”


    • #14 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2011 - 17:47

      That’s why people complain OWS doesn’t have a coherent message — they aren’t choosing a particular ideological cause or set of issues. In essence it’s a move for more democracy over economic relations. Wall Street is an intense concentration of economic power, with a lot of inside information and advantages that gives those on the inside immense advantage, yet their actions can cause those on the outside much pain. It’s how the insiders have also raided pension plans of workers while building up executive pension plans. You have resources and inside information, you have power and can rig the game.

      If you open this up and create more democratic oversight and transparency, that will make it hard for the elite to game the system. But when you have Ron Paul supporters protesting with anti-globalization socialists it’s clear there isn’t one coherent ideological message. I think that’s intentional on the part of the organizers of OWS.

  11. #15 by Alan Scott on October 25, 2011 - 23:27


    I think you are calling for more oversight of the existing system . First off, the Democrats who had 2 years of great power, were more interested in social engineering than true oversight. They put racial quotas into Dodd-Frank. Plus Dodd-Frank punishes the innocent along with the guilty.

    Then you have the OWS which has drawn in all kinds of anti social misfits .You have a lot of pure Marxists and then mixed in you have the Anarchists . They don’t want oversight of the existing system . They want the existing system blown up . They don’t want to reform Wall Street, they want to loot it . Obama only attacked part of Wall Street, the part that were not his cronies . OWS is mad at Obama for not destroying the whole. That was why they voted for him .

    You Democrats really should be careful about what you want, because you might just get it . The anti war crowd lead directly to the election of Richard Nixon, because they scared middle America. Middle America has no use for OWS. They might elect a Perry or a Bachman , just for spite .

    • #16 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2011 - 23:32

      I think Perry and Bachman scare them more than OWS. But Romney is a Nixon sort of guy (not in terms of ethics, but as being seen as safe and conservative). Of course, Obama was a result of the Iraq war — without that, he wouldn’t have had a chance, so it cuts both ways. I guess that’s how the political pendulum operates!

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