By Robert Schlesinger |
While both protest movements give voice to a powerlessness increasingly felt by many Americans, the similarities pretty much end there. The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon is not inherently divisive like the Tea Party, and less likely to be co-opted by operatives and lobbyists who don't share the real interests of the grass roots.
Consider the slogan each movement has adopted. The Tea Party's "don't tread on me" speaks to the fundamental anti-government core of that movement, one that all too easily conflates individual responsibility with righteous selfishness—and leads naturally to cheers of support at the September CNN/Tea Party presidential nominee debate at the prospect of uninsured people dying of illness rather than being treated.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, on the other hand, immediately galvanized around the phrase "we are the 99 percent," emphasizing the shared and valid complaints of most Americans: rising income inequality, shrinking income mobility, a tax code that favors the wealthy, a democracy weakened by the influence of money, and a government blocked by those unwilling or unable to protect those in the middle class even as they bail out Wall Street.
Those legitimate concerns lend themselves to policy prescriptions that would benefit the bottom 99 percent of Americans: passing the American Jobs Act (which would create as many as 2 million jobs), implementing financial regulatory reform, eliminating wasteful spending through the tax code, and protecting retirement and healthcare programs.
The anti-government stance of the Tea Party, on the other hand, lends itself to policies that actually work against the movement's base and make for easy co-option by moneyed interests. Tea Party preoccupation with fantasies of "government takeover" and aversion to All Things Washington aligns them with forces that would dilute or end federal protections that ordinary Tea Party supporters rely on every day: Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage, overtime, federal disaster relief, food safety, civil rights, fair lending rules, and the list goes on.
Eviscerating essential federal protections is all good and well for the top 1 percent, who really can fend for themselves. But the other 99 percent of Americans—and many of the ultra-wealthy, too—actually want to live in a country where we take care of our neighbors as well as ourselves.
Maybe that's why Americans support the Occupy Wall Street protests by a 2-to-1 margin, while they're more likely to oppose the Tea Party, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out this month.
About Gadi Dechter Associate Director at Center for American Progress
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen
Reniqua Allen Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation
Douglas Schoen Democratic Campaign Consultant
Mark Meckler National Coordinator of Tea Party Patriots