James Oliphant of the Los Angeles Times quotes prominent self-anointed leaders of the Tea Party movement on their reaction to the recent sprouting of Occupy America encampments in dozens of cities across North America from Boston and New York to Seattle and L.A. Clearly the Tea Party bosses don’t get it:
Conservatives continue to assail the movement and dispute a building media narrative that has likened it to the rise of the tea party. The group Tea Party Patriots released a statement Tuesday contrasting the grass-roots effort it represents with the liberal protests.
Tea party adherents, said the group’s co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, “don’t believe corporations are inherently evil, nor should bankers be beheaded. They do not believe this country should be divided by class, but united in a return to the principles that undergird our nation’s success. In fact, they want more of what made America great: more Constitutional restraint on government so that the people have more freedom to achieve the good things the country offers.
“By contrast, those occupying Wall Street and other cities, when they are intelligible, want less of what made America great and more of what is damaging to America: a bigger, more powerful government to come in and take care of them so they don’t have to work like the rest of us who pay our bills.”
They also contended that tea party rallies have been “safe and clean,” they said, unlike civil unrest caused by “lawbreaking troublemakers.”
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Jon Stewart’s hilarious scolding of these same leaders on the Daily Show:
Sean Hannity recently said the Occupy Wall Street protesters “hate freedom,” and Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler said the protesters are breaking laws by wrongfully camping in a park and marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. Not tea party behavior, he said.
“Everything you described there, I believe, is a misdemeanor,” Stewart said. “The actual tea party was a fucking felony! … Did you know what the tea party actually was?”
I don’t think you can make the point any clearer than Stewart that the difference between the right’s “rebellion” against “Obamacare” and the left’s occupation of Wall Street and the American town square is precisely the difference between dress up and direct action. The Tea Party enjoyed making believe it was the Second Coming of the American Revolution, but they apparently never intended to actually shake the corrupt system to the core as their supposed models the original patriots did. What they really wanted, apparently, was to shake things back to the way they were in 2008, when the right-wing’s tightening grip on control of the government was disappointingly loosened by unforeseen unity among Democrats and independents around a candidate who promised real, meaningful change. Now that part of this same coalition threatens to be turning truly radical, forging an honest to goodness revolution in opposition to the corrupt government and social and economic relations the 2008 “Change” candidate seems to have been co-opted by, the Tea Party’s faux rebels are ready to call the cops.
We know that the loudest mouths of the Tea Party never were revolutionaries at all but were always reactionaries to the core. Their real models were not the roused rabble of Boston but the royalists of olde Newe Yorke who were content with the status quo they profited by. But there is a contingent of Tea Party sympathizers who actually do hold radical views about government and society, and some of them, at least, do seem to get what #ows is about. It’s one reason I focus on one of their heroes, Ron Paul, so often in this blog. There is an area of agreement between these two radical views, if only in the awareness on each side that the government as is is hopelessly corrupt and its severe problems can’t be fixed with ordinary tools. The most radical on left and right believe government itself is the problem and seem to agree that its most egregious sin against human beings is the necessarily arbitrary restrictions it puts on freedom. Commonplace conservatives (witness the Sean Hannity quote above) like to talk about “freedom,” but when they see it in action, as in #occupyWallStreet, what they really see is terrorism.
Oddly enough, the occupation is teaching us that freedom in action causes discomfort among commonplace liberals as well. Andy Ostroy, a “political analyst” at Huffington Post is, I think, typical. In a blog, he praised #ows for its energy, but he criticized it for being unclear in its demands. “President Obama, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have to clearly understand what it is that the movement is fighting for,” he asserted. Could Ostroy really be so naive as to think anyone in that list would do anything to meet the demands of the #ows protesters if they were ringing clear as a bell (which I believe they are)? (Demand number one: remove the influence of naked money from politics. What are you going to do about that, Boehner, huh?)
One thing Democrats should understand about #ows: It is not a Democratic movement. It might be instructive for leaders and loyal rank-and-filers to understand it as an anti-Democratic movement. Which is to say that, while it is profoundly, creatively, spiritedly democratic (with a small d), it is equally fed up with decades of Democratic promises and betrayals. Obama’s has proved to be the worst, most injurious one of all, but it’s far from the only one. And so, while Obama’s betrayal may cost him and the party the elections in 2012 as millions of us refuse to play the fool for them again, it looks as though an actual revolution of audacious hope and change worth believing in will only gain in spite of and because of it.
I’m sure loyal yellow-dog Democrats, because I once was one myself, will learn to loathe and fear #ows as much as the faux rebels on the right, not because of the menace they present to society but because of their danger to Democrats in 2012. And the fear and loathing will only increase if one of the lessers running for the GOP nomination betters “our” best. For the first time perhaps ever, I’m surprised to find myself not caring who wins next year. Right now it looks to me like this revolution may be more worth fighting for than four more years of betrayal.