Tea Party activists and the much younger Occupy Wall Street protesters are in furious agreement that they are not alike. But neither generation has exclusive ownership of the frustration sweeping the United States.
Even in the liberal streets of Washington DC you’ll get the same answer as from its conservative small towns and military communities: nearly everybody thinks the government is unfairly giving benefit to someone they don’t like.
If the grievances of the Occupy Wall Street protests look like a shopping list of progressive causes — tomorrow’s October 2011 protest in Washington offers a selection — then the Tea Party’s beginning should be instructive.
The Tea Party may not have styled themselves so grandiosely as The 99 Percent but they probably have more justification to do so. They did hand President Obama a “shellacking” in last year’s mid-term elections and given the powerful Republican Speaker of the House reason to fear his own caucus. But it could have gone very different.
Tax Day protests struggled with a nebulous array of conservative beliefs that threatened to overshadow their core economic message. Representative Ron Paul, one of its early figureheads, often strayed from auditing the federal reserve into difficult issues such as dismissing evolution. It didn’t have clear early solutions either, often more focused on ideology and interpretations of America’s founding principles.
Its success came in part by a false belief that the mainstream news media was ignoring it, sparking even more outrage and enthusiasm. I didn’t see Twitter hashtags at their rallies, and most of the YouTube videos were produced instead by their opponents. But they sure managed to make effective use of corporate donations to produce professional looking pamphlets and DVDs, and most importantly, a political campaign machine.
The union backing of the protesters this week, as well as the suddenly support of the left leaning cable news network MSNBC mirrors the growth in support the Tea Party enjoyed.
Already we’re seeing all these signs in the Occupy Wall Street movement, including strong interest from moveon.org and the Democratic machine which needs that enthusiasm for President Obama’s re-election.
It’s too soon to tell if these protests will grow as large as the movement that shook Congress to its core in the last two years. If that becomes its aim, then it will have as much time to build as the Tea Party did before facing its first electoral test.
A smart re-election campaign might avert this becoming an adversarial movement and instead co-opt it into a message about leading the whole country, the little guy and those who prefer little tax.
Not that the Tea Party would find common ground. One of its leaders, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, told The Daily Caller: “These are law breaking people. We have nothing in common with them other than we are all American citizens. My read on the news is that they do not even know what they are protesting.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey governor Chris Christie spent much of his hour long televised “not running for president” event Tuesday putting the boot into President Obama for being unable to bridge the divide and be a leader for the entire nation.