Occupy Wall Street v. The Tea Party

Occupy Wall Street protests have the reputation of being about diffused public anger with no real political agenda.  The Tea Party has always been rigidly focused on anti-taxes but defines itself around the Contract from America platform that its followers stick closely to in their political campaigning.  From their start in 2009 the Tea Party quickly organized into a grass roots federation of citizens that got many people elected around the country and in congress.  But the Tea Party isn’t 100% a single structure either, with several web sites using the Tea Party name and each having slightly different platforms.

If the Occupy Wall Street movement wants political success they too will need to organize across the country into a political movement.  First off, they need a better name, and second they need a political platform that will counter challenge the conservatives and define their movement.  And they need to coop the Democratic party like the Tea Party has taken over the Republican party.  Third parties just don’t work, unless they think Americans are ready for a complete change.  But looking at list of American political parties and their history makes this doubtful.

The phrase “occupy Wall Street” just doesn’t ring true for a long term political party moniker.  I’m not sure what these young new protestors want, but they sound like an Egalitarian Party because of their identity with the 99%.  Since the Occupy Wall Street protests quickly found sympathy with people in other countries they would do well to make it a world-wide movement.  The old phrase, Think Globally, Act Locally applies well to them because of their environmental demands.

In a world of global communications, global economy, global environment, why not a global political movement?  However, if they don’t stay focused on the critical issues they will bog down and divide their followers.  If you look at the various political platforms on the Tea Party sites you  see how they’ve broaden their anti-tax focus to other issues – for example look at the Non-negotiable 15 Core Beliefs at the TeaParty.org site that deal with guns, English and family values.

The Tea Party advocates a small government movement where individuals are expected to pull their own weight.  The Occupy Wall Street movement advocates economic fairness for all in a society that favors the rich.  Both are about money.  The Tea Party people want more money for their economic freedom by paying less taxes at the local, state and federal levels – thus the emphasis for a small government.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is about protecting the individual rather than the bottom line, and that means social engineering, big government and more taxes.  There is a direct conflict of goals.

Our society is politically polarized and getting more polarized all the time.  I fear this process is only going to get nastier.  The 2012 election will probably be a lot like the one in 1968.

JWH – 10/18/11

An Alternate History of The Tea Party

Let’s imagine The Tea Party movement starting much earlier so they were firmly in power by 2008 and got to make the decisions that President Bush and Obama made.  Let’s imagine they released the Kraken of absolute free economic survival of the fittest capitalism.  What would our world be like today in 2010?

Picture all those top banks, AIG, GM and Chrysler going down the tubes.  Then imagine all their business partners going under, and the domino effect that would have.  What would Wall Street and our 401k accounts look like today?  And with all those people out of work would the Tea Party even offer a stimulus package?  Let’s assume not.  Let’s assume they really want absolute free markets and a small government like they claim.  What would the unemployment figure be today?  No one really knows.  But I do believe all the states would be much worse off today, and so would their retirement systems for state employees.

Our whole way of life is built on a giant Ponzi scheme of economic activity.  If the economy slows everyone suffers.  The loan crisis of 2008 was a hydrogen bomb hitting Wall Street, and what the Tea Party philosophy appears to say is “Absolutely no disaster relief.”

As much as free market capitalists would like to believe, there is no such thing as a free market.  All the governments of the world back their citizens and corporations to compete in various ways.  The Federal Government has always been a stimulus package for our economy.  To have true free markets we’d have to have no government involvement.  Government would only be for roads, militia, police, and all those other shared services, but not for helping America to compete in the world markets, or to help corporations and individuals survive within the United States.

If we followed the Tea Party philosophy we’d have to stop subsidizing industries like farming and oil.  Big government means lots of jobs.  Big government means helping corporations get bigger which means even more jobs.  Social services means supporting people who would otherwise be looking for jobs.  Applying the Tea Party philosophy means destroying tens of millions of jobs.

If the Tea Party had gotten their way in 2008 I believe we’d have devastating unemployment today, with all the retirement systems, including federal, state, corporate, personal savings, etc. would have been wiped out, and we’d have even a larger portion of the population without medical insurance.  The economic Kraken would have eaten us up and shitted us out.  But I can’t prove that, but I find it hard to believe otherwise.

What the Tea Party philosophy wants to believe  is absolute Darwinian survival of the fittest.  And theoretically that might sound good.  During our great pioneering days, the weak died, and the strong got stronger.  But then we invented democracy and organized into a cooperative civilization.  This allow millions to get stronger, grow and thrive.

The history of America is really the history of cooperative effort.  Do we really want to go back to era of pioneering when only the strongest individuals survived?  Sure, the strongest level of cooperation then was the family structure.  I really admire the pioneering spirit of those days, but its only suited for an extremely low population density.

I don’t think the Tea Party people really want to shrink the government that small.  I expect most of them are really just nostalgic for the 1950s sized government.  But try and imagine a world without Medicare and Medicaid?  My mother’s last twenty years cost a lot of money in terms of medical care that neither she nor me and my sister could have afforded.  And I imagine that’s true of most people in the U.S.  And that governmental supported health care for the elderly and poor created millions of jobs.

I just don’t see how we can go backwards without putting millions out of work.  What the Tea Party philosophy wants would so thoroughly reshape our society.  Some would get much richer, but most would get much poorer.

All the political conflict in our country comes down to one analogy:  There is a knob that adjusts the economy.  Turn it one way and it strengthens the individual, turn it the other way, it strengthens the whole.  Many Tea Party people believe they would be strengthened by turning the knob to the right.  Want to know if that’s true for you?  If you are already rich then you have what it takes and that turn of the knob will help you.  If you aren’t rich, more than likely you’ll be in the whole that gets poorer.  The strong are already strong.  Very few people sit on the borderline and would be freed to find new wealth.

Sure it would be nice to pay less tax.  If we paid 10% or 25% less would our individual lives be that much better?  I would think it would put millions our of work, so for the whole it would bring misery.  Would some of our problems be solved if we all paid a little more?  I don’t know.  I think we should be taxed less in good times, and more in bad, simply to share the good and the bad more fairly.

The Tea Party protestors seem so angry at the government, believing less government would improve our lives.  If we had better banking regulators and economists, couldn’t we have avoided some of these economic tragedies?  The economy seems to be getting slowly better, and isn’t that due to government intrusion?  I am not very political, but I don’t see the size of the government as a problem.  When I hear about tainted food, I want more food inspectors.  When I hear about terrorists I want more security guards.  When I hear that China and India want to go to the Moon, I want NASA to go back. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everything runs smoothly, or every tax dollar is spent wisely.  If bean counters can find ways to cut the fat, or watchdogs find ways to get rid of graft and corruption, or economists can come up with ways to do things cheaper, I’m all for it.  I just don’t see the point of making the government smaller if we have to give up services that the majority wants.

Wasn’t the original Tea Party a protest against taxation without representation?  We get lots of opportunity to vote and have our voices heard.  And if the Tea Party people had something specific they wanted, their job is to get the majority to agree.  They are being heard, but their protests are more about anger than legislation.  Being against health care reform is just swimming against the tide when many nations much poorer than us already have it.  That’s just the way the world is going.  We can’t go backwards, especially if we want the U.S. to stay the world leader 

And don’t get me wrong, there is lots to protest about.  The stimulus money could have been better managed.  People losing their homes should have gotten more help.  People without jobs should be getting help faster.  I think our government is constantly evolving and improving, and sure it has tremendous problems, but over time those will be fixed and new ones will show up.  We’ll always have problems and we’ll never reach perfection.

Sarah Palin, The Tea Party, Fox News, and all the politics of anger scares me.  I want a stable law and order society and these people are advocating revolution.  I feel now how my parents felt in the 1960s.  I’m sure many people are tired of liberal progress, but if they studied history, they would see even as far back as pre-history the evolution of liberal thought.  The evolution of liberal ideas have been progressing for a very long time.  It’s so ironic that conservatives worship the liberal heroes of the past.

Conservatives are just liberals who want to get off the progress train.  No matter how right wing some conservatives are, many of their cherished beliefs were once radical.  I am reminded of the ending to the movie Things to Come, where two scientists are watching the first flight to the Moon:

An observatory at a high point above Everytown. A telescopic mirror of the night sky showing the cylinder as a very small speck against a starry background. Cabal and Passworthy stand before this mirror.

CABAL: “There! There they go! That faint gleam of light.”


PASSWORTHY: “I feel–what we have done is–monstrous.”

CABAL: “What they have done is magnificent.”

PASSWORTHY: “Will they return?”

CABAL: “Yes. And go again. And again–until the landing can be made and the moon is conquered. This is only a beginning.”

PASSWORTHY: “And if they don’t return–my son, and your daughter? What of that, Cabal?”

CABAL (with a catch in his voice but resolute): “Then presently–others will go.”

PASSWORTHY: “My God! Is there never to be an age of happiness? Is there never to be rest?”

CABAL: “Rest enough for the individual man. Too much of it and too soon, and we call it death. But for MAN no rest and no ending. He must go on–conquest beyond conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time–still he will be beginning.”

PASSWORTHY: “But we are such little creatures. Poor humanity. So fragile–so weak.”

CABAL: “Little animals, eh?”

PASSWORTHY: “Little animals.”

CABAL: “If we are no more than animals–we must snatch at our little scraps of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more–than all the other animals do–or have done.” (He points out at the stars.) “It is that–or this? All the universe–or nothingness…. Which shall it be, Passworthy?”

The two men fade out against the starry background until only the stars remain.

The musical finale becomes dominant.

CABAL’S voice is heard repeating through the music: “Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?”

The role of the conservative is not to stop progress, but to make progress stable and orderly.  Wild eyed liberals need conservative reason.  There is no communication anymore between the two polarized camps, so we’ve stopped working together.  We both just fear each other’s ideas.  Now that the liberals have gotten healthcare reform maybe we should focus on fiscal conservation and let the other side have some wins too.  Our progress seems to have scared the conservatives into becoming radicals, where they are even willing to abandon their old love of law and order.

JWH – 4/6/10


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