Tea Parties ≠ Occupiers
Tea Parties and the Occupiers have a few commonalities, but, although many media outlets have attempted to do so, it's a mistake to equate the two phenomena.
The American left has been pining for a liberal balance to the popular Tea Party/grassroots groups since the latter reached numbers sufficient to assure that its collective voice would be heard. But the "movement" the left produced will end badly for the progressive politicians whom, through their ignorance, the Occupiers excuse or ignore.
The mobilization of the Millennial Me-Generation Occupiers is simply a re-warmed leftover from 1968 very likely to produce the same public backlash the hippy generation's bizarre antics did then. The 1968 occupier/rioters in Chicago sank Democratic presidential hopes. There is no Richard Nixon among the current GOP presidential hopefuls, but if the Occupiers persist nationwide as they have pledged to do, the Republican nominated will be the next POTUS.
In politics, principle and ideology are not always, and sometimes are never, the same things, and the media which willfully confuse them in a political context do a disservice to the genuinely principled and mislead everyone else. It's ironic that the same media which demonized and slandered Tea Parties for more than two years are now comparing them to the Occupiers in an attempt to legitimize the latter.
Political observer Jay Cost has defined political parties as extra-governmental conspiracies to unite governmental power under a single party banner. Only common interests perceived by party "conspirators" bind political parties together. Cost suggests that American party structures are weak, and partisans participate in the "conspiracy" only if they believe that it will benefit them personally.
It is on the point of self-interest where principle and ideology most often part ways.
The Tea Party is a grassroots movement which grew in spontaneous opposition to the spending policies and debt accumulation of the national government. There is real principle involved in the grassroots. According to a prominent Democrat, the Occupiers "have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies." (More from this source later.)
Occasionally, events motivate individuals sharing certain principles -- or self-interests -- to combine in numbers sufficient to influence the parties and the politicians both control.
So it is with Tea Parties and the Occupiers. Democrats and Republicans have reacted to both groups, but in very different ways and at different speeds.
Tea Parties were and are maligned by national Democrats and their left-wing media echo chamber. Republican politicians approached the grassroots with caution, viewing them with the same suspicion with which the grassroots viewed Republican politicians. The grassroots didn't miss that the national government has grown every year since the 1960s, even during the two terms served by President Ronald Reagan.
Tea Parties were and are bad for political business as usual. It was only after the grassroots reached critical mass and later influenced the 2010 wave election that Republicans began to embrace the grassroots, and then often reluctantly. It's funny how fifty, sixty, or seventy additional House caucus members and a few extra senators can focus the political mind. Republicans are eager to ride the grassroots pony into 2012. If they don't get arrogant and mess up the nominating processes in the various national, state, and local jurisdictions, the Rs very well may.
On the other side, Democrats quickly embraced the Occupiers as an antidote to the energized grassroots voters who helped to nominate many sympathetic candidates and supported other Republicans in 2010 as their "least-worst" options. Democrats are also buoyed by the fact that the occupiers are demonstrating against the wrong malefactors for the wrong reasons and occupying the wrong places. These mistakes all distract attention from the negative outcomes of the policies and spending national Democrats have pursued and implemented since they were awarded congressional majorities in 2006 and captured the White House in 2008.
The Occupiers have been embraced by national Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the vice president. Numerous other Democratic members of Congress have at least attempted to embrace the Occupiers -- not always with positive results, as this simultaneously amusing and insulting video amply demonstrates. President Obama has given the Occupiers favorable nods in his public remarks.
In contrast, Republicans are delighted with the attention a group of misfits are receiving, confident that the eventual public backlash will bolster their chances next year. Wisely, most Republicans aren't speaking out about the Occupiers.
More than one smart Democrat (yes, friends, there is such a thing) has expressed reservations about the Occupiers and the danger of prominent Democrats embracing them. Doug Schoen, a former Clinton pollster, has polled the New York protesters. He writes in the Wall Street Journal:
What binds a large majority of the protesters together-regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education-is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.
Democrats need to say they are with voters in the middle who want cooperation, conciliation and lower taxes. And they should work particularly hard to contrast their rhetoric with the extremes advocated by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
Presumably, Schoen would have Democrats say those things even if they don't believe them.
Similarly, Will Marshall, the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, is concerned about the aftereffects of Democrats being identified with the Occupiers:
For liberals, who have watched the Tea Party's rise with a mixture of dread, incomprehension, and envy, the Occupy Wall Street protests seem Heaven-sent. ...
[T]hey're hoping that the OWS protests will congeal into a progressive counterweight to the Tea Party that can stop the nation's rightward lurch.
Not likely. The protests don't seem to be swelling into a mass movement...
Conservatives still outnumber liberals, and moderates still outnumber conservatives. Essentially, this means liberals need to win big among moderates to win elections. Getting in bed with radicals sporting slogans like "Eat the Rich" probably won't help them woo moderates.
Democrats would do well to take Schoen's and Marshall's advice. But one suspects that the media distractions provided by the Occupiers suit the Democrats very well because those distractions mask -- for now, at least -- the Democrats' policy failures.
And they call Republicans "the Stupid Party."