It was inevitable that after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests would lead to comparisons with the earlier Tea Party movement. Because they both emerged during this current financial and economic downturn, it seems a matter of common sense to look for affinities between the two, even when they offer starkly difference solutions. Let's take a look at the general and somewhat superficial ways that the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street Movement resemble each other. The next post will examine some differences.
First, they are both populist movements against established institutional authorities. Members in both movements perceive that these established authorities--government, political parties, corporations, and financial institutions--have in some sense failed the people.
Second, they have attracted diverse followers with different interpretations and different agendas. The Tea Party began in opposition to the massive expansion of government behind the bailouts of investment banks, government loans to automobile manufacturers, and the stimulus packages. It also sounded the alarm about the tax burden that the people will be forced to carry in order eventually pay for those bailouts. Consequently, the immediate goal of the Tea Party Movement was to reign in government intervention and government spending. With the introduction of "Obamacare," some elements in the Tea Party Movement embraced the cause of restructuring of Medicare and Social Security. And of course, other members of the movement see our current malaise as a moral problem. More religiously minded among the Tea Party Movement see a need for moral reform and restoring honor. Others have added the problem of illegal immigration to the Tea Party agenda.
Occupy Wall Street, too, has attracted a diverse following. Initiated by Adbusters as protest against Wall Street greed and corporate influence on politics, the OWS Movemnt has attracted debtors, students, the unemployed, vegetarians, pacifists, open borders supporters, and anti-death penalty advocates. All these participants hoped to add their causes to the OWS message.
Third, some outside groups have embraced the two movements, perhaps in order to influence them into alternative directions. Organizations such as Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and others have embraced the Tea Party movement. They agree with much of the Tea Party's agenda but no doubt would like to steer the movement away from those areas with which these other groups disagree.
Although the OWS Movement is much newer, it, too, has experienced the bandwagon effect. In addition to the predictable cast of actors and actresses that try to "steal the scenes" to enhance their own egos, the Association of University Professors, MoveOn.Org and others have endorsed OWS.
Unions such the the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, and the Teamsters among many others have officially announced their support for OWS. Two additional unions are all the more interesting because they represent journalists who actually cover the OWS and disseminate information about it: the Communication Workers of American and the Newspaper Guild.
Finally, the Tea Party Movement and OWS both challenged our two main political parties while at the same time are subject to being co-opted by them. The relationship between the two populist movements and the main two political parties have generated the more typical comparisons. The basic paradigm is that "the OWS movement is to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party Movement is to the Republican Party. Establishment Republicansearly on criticised the Tea Party, its positions, and its candidates. After witnessing its impact in recent elections, however, they have come around to embracing it. The Democratic establishment kept its distance in the early days of the OWS Movment. They seemed to have recognized that the movement was almost as much about them as about Wall Street. Now President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all have welcomed OWS. They, too, hope to co-opt the movement in the interests of the Social Democratic Party.