OCCUPY THE TEA PARTY: Are they the same? Or different?


Part 2—The Times gropes the elephant’s buttocks: Are Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party really “natural allies?” That’s what Matt Taibbi crazily said in a recent Rolling Stone post (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/24/11).

What could Taibbi have meant?

These movements seem to be very different. But are these movements alike in some way? Could they really be “natural allies?” Are they more the same than different?

There’s an obvious answer to those questions. That answer would be yes and no.

Consider two recent front-page reports. One appeared in the Washington Post, the other in the New York Times. In essence, each report asked a basic question: Are these movements the same in some way? Or are they totally different?

These news reports seemed to answer that question in totally different ways. But there was an obvious reason for this apparent divergence. One report chose to stress the similarities between the two movements. The other report rather plainly chose to stress the differences.

Are these movements the same? Or are they different? As with the apocryphal blind men describing the elephant, it depends on your point of view.

The New York Times went first. Last Saturday, Kate Zernike penned a front-page report which ran beneath a rather predictable headline: “Wall St. Protest Isn't Like Ours, Tea Party Says.”

According to that gloomy headline, the Tea Party had somehow said that Occupy Wall Street isn’t like them. But did the entire “Tea Party” say thAT? Since the “Tea Party” isn’t an actual organization, it’s hard to see how that could have happened. And sure enough! In her accurate but selective assessment, Zernike focused on political professionals in certain professionalized Tea Party orgs. Unsurprisingly, these professionalized players insisted that the Occupy Wall Street movement was nothing like the Tea Party. In this passage, Zernike quoted the co-founder or a professionalized Tea Party-related group:
ZERNIKE (10/22/11): ...Tea Party activists are indeed fighting the comparisons.

"They seem to be more in favor of anarchy than they are in favor of working out problems through the Constitution," Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said about the Occupy forces.

"We have worked very hard to be respectful of the laws," she said in an interview. "We protest and complain, but we're also trying to work within the system. It's frustrating to watch people who have an utter lack of respect for our form of government."

Tea Party Patriots issued a statement last week titled, "Occupy Wall Street? They're No Tea Partiers." Tea Party supporters, it argued, were the ones who "have stood firmly on principle."
What a shock! Professionalized activists in this professionalized group are resisting the notion that these two movements might be natural allies! In the bulk of her report, Zernike stressed this thoroughly predictable development. She focused on professionalized Tea Party elements—folk who are horrified by the thought that the Tea Party is anything like “those people” in the grimy Occupy movement. She noted the way conservative forces have been demonizing the Occupy folk, seizing upon the wackiest elements found around that group—much as professionalized liberal forces have seized upon the wackiest elements found around the Tea Party.

“The Daily Caller jubilantly noted Monday that the Nazi Party of America had endorsed the Occupy movement,” Zernike reported, describing the kind of brain-dead demonization in which a society’s brain-dead elements always engage. But even as she adopted this focus, Zernike managed to find a conservative writer who “acknowledged that [Occupy Wall Street] resembled the Tea Party movement in some respects.” And she cited “some Occupy demonstrators” who “seemed more willing to express some commonality with...the Tea Party.”

Zernike focused on elements who were rejecting the notion that the movements had something in common. The very next day, Marc Fisher did a front-page report in the Washington Post which took the opposite tack.

Fisher’s headline seemed to reject Zernike’s assessment. Fisher’s headline said the following:

“For tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements, some common ground”

For the most part, Fisher ignored the obvious differences between the two movements. Instead, he drew an important distinction—the distinction between organizers of these movements and “the rank and file.” Having drawn this distinction, he focused on certain regular people within the two movements. He had found people who seem to see a connection between the two groups:
FISHER (10/23/11): Although many organizers of the two populist efforts view their counterparts from the other end of the spectrum as misguided or even evil, attitudes among the rank and file of the tea party and Occupy Wall Street are often much more accepting and flexible. They start out with different views about the role of government, but in interviews and online discussions they repeatedly share many of the same frustrations, as well as a classically American passion for fixing the system.

No one expects the tea party and Occupy movements to merge forces, but their adherents are discovering that their stories are often strikingly similar...
Are these movements the same? Or are they different? Duh! Zernike stressed the obvious differences and the fiery people who love them; Fisher stressed the alleged similarities. It was like the apocryphal tale of the blind men examining the elephant. Fisher described the animal’s trunk and ears. By way of contrast, Zernike had been groping all around the elephant’s buttocks and tail.

Are these movements “natural allies?” Are these movements the same in some significant ways—or are they totally different? Duh. To state the obvious, it all depends on how one approaches the question. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Taibbi’s post, looking again at his reasons for seeing a natural kinship. We’ll also consider a warning he gave in his post.

Some people are going fight very hard to keep you from seeing the similarities! That’s what Taibbi said in his post. In part 4, we’ll show you how Digby has responded to claims that these two movements have something in common.

Digby has made some perfectly valid points as she has compared these two movements. On balance, though, we’d have to say this:

Taibbi called his shot.

Tomorrow: Taibbi’s warning

To read part 3 of this series: Just click here.


  1. I think the two groups are fundamentally adversaries. Set aside the fact that some Occupiers are anti-American, some are motivated by class hatred, some are socialists, some want a revolutionary new government structure, and some favor illegal demonstrations. The ultimate difference is that the Tea Parties want to shrink government while OWS seeks various changes that would mean bigger government.

  2. Wrong. The ultimate difference is that the Tea Parties have been baffled, bamboozled and buffaloed by right-wing bullshit, and OWS has not. I think many in the Tea Parties would be receptive to what the OWS people are saying if they knew the truth of what was happening in the world.

    I can just as easily say that some Tea Partiers are anti-American, some are motivated by class hatred, some are fascists, some want to have an authoritarian government structure, and some favor violent suppression of dissent.