With the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement cropping up in locations both foreign and domestic, the mainstream media, President Obama, and others on the left have taken to comparing it favorably with the heretofore derided Tea Party. Of course, the irony of doing that is lost to them, desperate as they are.
One could say the difference between the OWS and Tea Party movement, boils down to this: hygiene. It’s doubtful anyone has ever been drawn to a Tea Party rally by its scent. But sarcasm aside, the Tea Party is a national, grassroots effort that is focused on promoting free-market capitalism, limited government, lower taxes, and constitutional freedoms. OWS is a limited phenomenon that believes America should stand for equal outcomes, hand-outs, and income redistribution. One has been the driving force for wholesale change in the American political dynamic. The other is an artificial creation of labor unions, left-wing activist groups, and disgruntled hippie wannabes who throw rocks at police and disrupt neighborhoods for days on end. Tea Party members clean up after themselves. Occupy protesters create human health concerns. The tea parties wave the American flag. The Occupy protesters trample it.
Yet in one area there is a certain similarity: Tea partiers would agree with the anti-corporatism and anti-crony capitalism voiced by the OWS. Bailing out Wall Street with taxpayer dollars while the rest of the country suffers through high unemployment and foreclosures has led tea partiers to express some Occupier-like sentiments that there is too close a connection among Wall Street, corporations, and politicians: these players serve themselves, not the American people, and free enterprise is not about having taxpayers shoulder all the risks while a very small percentage of the people reaps the profits.
As Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner points out, “Big banks have rigged the game so that they profit without creating value. In fact, they profit from activities that weaken the economy by creating instability.” The big Wall Street banks are not capitalism at work: they’ve become incestuous touch points between government and Wall Street, with revolving seats where sitting Federal Reserve officials can buy stock in Goldman Sachs while giving Goldman preference to special federal loans.
Let’s face it: Wall Street banks and the large corporations are not typically driven by what is best for the American people, nor are they terribly loyal to one party over another. They are loyal to themselves, to profit, and to whichever party will give them what they want, the American people be damned. The more is learned about the close relationships between Wall Street and the government, the more Randian the world becomes as profits are made not by creating value, but by how good one’s connections are in government so that taxpayer dollars can serve as a backstop on risky ventures. Occupy Wall Street wants to lay most of the blame at the feet of the big Wall Street banks. But it forgets that the Wall Streeters are merely dancing to the tune the politicos called out. Of course, the point can also be made that the politicos called that tune because of the sweet music of Wall Street money clinking in their campaign coffers.
BUT BEYOND some common ground on the big banks and corporations, similarities between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party are almost nonexistent. In most ways the Occupy movement is the antithesis of the tea parties: it is collectivist and statist at heart, and its bizarre ultra-democracy smacks more of the French Revolution than the American Revolution: even the name of OWS’s proposed National General Assembly seems Jacobin in flavor. Its approach to “organizing” its participants has led Occupy Oakland to be described in the San Jose Mercury News as more like “a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies,'” with ideas and behavior that would set up a “far more oppressive society than our own.” Beyond the basic fact that no one was ever arrested at a Tea Party rally, sexually assaulted, or caught defecating on a police car or on the doorsteps of private citizens, the tea partiers’ prescription for real change is diametrically different from the Occupiers’.
Tea partiers don’t believe that all profit is wrong, or that there should be equal outcomes, but that the free enterprise system is profit-driven and can benefit all people. They believe that people have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams, or profit, but are not entitled to equal outcomes. Tea partiers believe that the free enterprise system does work, and that in its truest form, free enterprise leads to great political and religious freedom: if you are an economic ward of the state, you can be neither politically nor religiously free. Tea partiers believe that an authentic free enterprise system does work, but that what we’re experiencing right now is not exactly free enterprise. It is more a Frankenstein version underneath the veneer of a capitalistic system. To address the problem, there must be greater transparency and accountability, and elected officials must realize that they serve the American people, not the banks of Wall Street.
In the end, it couldn‘t be more obvious why OWS is a temporary, and rather odious, phenomenon. At most, it proves only that some of the problems within our system are obvious to both sides of the debate. Meanwhile, the Tea Party and the ideals of limited government and true free enterprise represent not only the founding principles of this great nation, but the solutions to what ails us. The Tea Party movement upholds values the majority of Americans can easily agree with. The OWS movement has never held those values, nor will the American people ever agree with its inarticulate demands.