At a Republican candidate forum outside Fort Worth last week, a Tea Party activist turned Senate candidate proclaimed the Occupy Wall Street protesters “unemployed, uneducated and uninformed.” To which the conservative radio host moderating the panel added, mirthfully, “This is the first occupation many of these people have seen in years.”
More and more commentators — as well as President Obama — have likened the Occupy forces spreading across the country to the Tea Party movement. But as they have, conservatives and Tea Party activists have rushed to discredit the comparison and the nascent movement. They have portrayed the Occupy protesters as messy, indolent, drug-addled and anti-Semitic, circulated a photo of one of them defecating on a police car, and generally intimated that Democrats who embrace them are on a headlong road to Chicago 1968.
It is a culture war, young versus old, left versus right, communal food tables versus “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.
In fact, the two movements do share key traits. They emerged out of nowhere but quickly became potent political forces, driven by anxiety about the economy, a belief that big institutions favor the reckless over the hard-working, grievances that are inchoate and even contradictory, and an insistence that they are “leaderless.” “End the Fed” signs — and even some of those yellow Gadsden flags — have found a place at Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protests alike.
Where they differ is in where they place the blame. While Occupy forces find fault in the banks and super-rich, the Tea Party movement blames the government for the economic calamity brought on by the mortgage crisis, and sees the wealthy as job creators who will lift the country out of its economic malaise. To them, the solution is less regulation of banks, not more.