I suppose it was inevitable that the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement would be compared with the Tea Party, but the level of misunderstanding and myth surrounding the latter's "populist" bona fides is surprising to even the most cynical observer.Click Here to read the rest.
There may be surface similarities between the two uprisings, but they actually represent two opposing populist worldviews, whose only philosophical resemblance to one another is their belief that they speak for "the people" against the elites. While both movements are mainly concerned with economic issues, their beliefs about the causes and solutions they propose couldn't be more different.
One of the central myths about the Tea Party is that it came about as a reaction against the Wall Street bailouts. It's true that there were some scattered "Tea Parties" around the Ron Paul campaign in 2008, but virtually everyone agrees that the movement was really galvanised by a famous rant from CNBC anchor Rick Santelli from the trading floor of the Chicago commodities exchange.
Only one month into the Obama administration, Santelli called for a "new Tea Party" to be held on tax day, April 15, and it became an instant YouTube sensation and rallying cry for the right wing.
He was mad about bailouts alright, but not the Wall Street bailouts. What sparked his fury was the proposed plan to help average homeowners in trouble with their mortgages. Santelli raved: "Do we really want to subsidise the losers' mortgages? This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbour's mortgage? President Obama, are you listening? How about we all stop paying our mortgages! It's a moral hazard."
"Do we really want to subsidise the losers?"
- Rick Santelli, CNBC anchor
Here's how his colleague Lawrence Kudlow characterised the outburst: "Santelli called for a new Tea Party in support of capitalism. He's right."
Support for capitalism - and antipathy toward government interference in it - is the very essence of Tea Party populism. There wasn't much talk about the moral hazard of a "too big to fail" banking system but there was plenty of fulminating about government interference in "the market" and righteous anger about the stimulus plan and what they characterised as the "government takeover" of the healthcare system.
It was never about corporate greed, but was about the usual right wing resentment at the government spending their tax money on people they don't think have earned it. These are not billionaire bankers - they are the people on the lower rungs of the ladder. Unsurprisingly, this attitude turned out to be useful to corporate interests looking to allay any real populist impulses among the citizenry, and they soon moved in through various means to help the "movement" organise itself.
Contrary to various accounts surfacing lately ostensibly to warn the Occupy Wall Street supporters of the dangers of being similarly "co-opted" it was a very happy love match, not a marriage of convenience.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, while being endlessly harrangued by wags and pundits about its alleged lack of goals and lists of grievances, is actually focused pretty clearly on the same thing as the populists of the Gilded Age - those whom Teddy Roosevelt called the "malefactors of great wealth".
Their rallying cry is "we are the 99 per cent" which represents the huge number of those of us who have been treading water or losing ground over the past 30 years, while and the upper one per cent of the population swallows up more and more of the nation's wealth. This shocking income inequality is finally reaching a critical mass that is animating the OWS movement.
Indifference of the rich
This movement wasn't catalysed by a wealthy commentator issuing a cri de guerre on a stock market show on TV. There has been a growing anti-corporate populist critique on the left for nearly 20 years, first in the form of the anti-globalisation movement and more recently in the more mainstream response to a series of assaults on workers' rights, notably in Wisconsin and Ohio.
The arrogant indifference of the very rich to the carnage they left behind in the wake of their spectacular meltdown in 2008, and the apparent impotence of democratic institutions to hold them to account, has finally mobilised the masses.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Trust Digby to get it right.