OCCUPY THE TEA PARTY: Is the glass 99 percent full?


Part 4—Digby should leave the tribe: Are Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party really “natural allies?”

We wouldn’t put it that way ourselves—but then, that isn’t exactly what Matt Taibbi said in his recent Rolling Stone post. As you read, let your inner parser’s freak flag fly! Examine his words with great care:
TAIBBI (10/17/11): The Rush Limbaughs of the world are very comfortable with a narrative that has Noam Chomsky, MoveOn and Barack Obama on one side, and the Tea Party and Republican leaders on the other. The rest of the traditional media won't mind that narrative either…

What nobody is comfortable with is a movement in which virtually the entire spectrum of middle class and poor Americans is on the same page, railing against incestuous political and financial corruption on Wall Street and in Washington. The reality is that Occupy Wall Street and the millions of middle Americans who make up the Tea Party are natural allies and should be on the same page about most of the key issues, and that's a story our media won't want to or know how to handle.
After we finish parsing his words, what did Taibbi actually say? Let’s paraphrase his words in some places: He said that Occupy Wall Street should be able to find “natural allies” among Tea Party supporters—among “the millions of middle Americans who make up the Tea Party.” He said those millions of middle Americans should be on the same page as the Occupy folk “about most of the key issues.”

Should middle Americans who support the Tea Party be on the same page as the Occupy folk? It’s obvious why Taibbi might say that, though we think his subsequent explanation overthought things a bit. After all, those middle Americans who support the Tea Party are getting looted by the top one percent, just like the Occupy people are! They’re paying massively too much for health care, just like people in the blue tribe. In part for that reason, their wages have tended to stagnate, just like the wages of their blue friends and purple neighbors. And when the Masters of the Universe blew up the financial system, they were left in the rubble too. As Taibbi explains, our nation’s too-big-too-fail banks “have put millions of ordinary people out of their homes thanks to a massive fraud scheme for which they were not punished, owing to their enormous influence with government and their capture of the regulators.”

Many of those middle Americans in the Tea Party queue have been defrauded by this scheme too. Their politicians are owned by the top 0.1 percent too, just like many of the pols who are favored by the blue tribe.

For all these reasons, the Occupy movement “should” be able to find allies within the Tea Party. Of course, there are many obstacles to such alliances—and no, such alliances aren’t necessarily required. After all, only about twenty percent of American adults say they support the tea party movement. In theory, the blue tribe could build a powerful movement without winning any of those people over to its side.

In theory, the blue tribe could do things that way. But why do we love the idea of such an approach so dearly? We often find ourselves asking that question when we read Digby’s reactions to the types of possibilities suggested by dreamers like Taibbi.

Digby has made many valid points about the Tea Party movement. But good gravy, how she loves to see the glass half empty! Last Saturday, she posted about Kate Zernike’s New York Times report, which noted that leaders of certain professional Tea Party orgs were attacking the notion that their group's members bore any similarity to those beasts in the Occupy movement. For us, the highlighted passages capture the self-limiting, uber-tribal reactions to which Digby is strongly inclined:
DIGBY (10/22/11): Speaking of which, Kate Zernike, who wrote Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, has written a piece in today's NY Times that backs up the impressions I wrote about in my Al Jazeera piece earlier this week: the Tea Party and OWS are not the same animal:


There is a bizarre need on the part of quite a few liberals to believe that the right really agrees with them, they just don't know it. They think that there is a potential "transpartisan" ideological Grand Alliance that will come together across all these artificial boundaries to work toward a common purpose. It's pretty to think so, but it isn't any more realistic than President Obama's odes to post-partisan leadership that would transcend ugly ideology and "change the way Washington works" were.

It is possible that the Occupy Wall Street movement will keep a majority of the public on its side. I fervently hope it does. But it won't win everyone and certainly not hardcore Reactionaries whose very identities are formed by their opposition to liberalism. You go with the culture you have, not the one you wish you had.
Many straw men had to die to sustain that level of tribal intransigence. Questions:

Who in the world would ever have thought that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street “are the same animal?” Which liberals have the “bizarre need...to believe that the right really agrees with them, they just don't know it?” Does anyone actually think that? (Digby often explains what others think without naming or quoting any such people.) Most perfectly, note the final warning, the warning which virtually defines The Tribal Imperative: The Occupy movement will never “win everyone,” Digby savvily says.

Our blue tribe will never “win everyone!” Did anyone ever think different? Could that be what Taibbi imagined or meant? Has anyone ever raised such a straw man as they discussed these two movements?

Have you ever heard the old saw about the perfect being the enemy of the good? With Digby, the totality often serves as the enemy of the some. Since we’ll never win everyone over, we shouldn’t waste our time trying for some! In this way, the tribal mind screams a prehistoric imperative:

Do not speak to “those people!” Do not engage with those people at all! For the record, Digby’s headline said this: “Never the twain shall meet.” For whatever reason, gloom like that makes tribal adepts feel good.

Digby made many valid points about these two movements in her recent long piece for Al Jazeera (click here). But in her writing, we routinely see the prehistoric impulse which badly limits the blue tribe’s options. To the tribal mind, “those people” will always be all alike! Digby routinely betrays this impulse about those people in the Tea Party. For one recent example, click here:
DIGBY (10/19/11): I keep hearing how well behaved the Tea Partiers were compared to Occupy Wall Street, what with their polite and well-mannered rallies and all. They are all over the place, getting face time as the supposedly civilized face of American protest, recalling the glory days of their "peaceful" movement.

They were anything but civilized. I'm just going to re-run this one again because I think it says everything that needs to be said.
To prove that “they” were “anything but civilized,” Digby showed tape of a few Tea Party people behaving unattractively. To Digby, this bad conduct by a few people “says everything that needs to be said.” But then, as we have occasionally joked: To Digby, if one Tea Partier spits on the sidewalk somewhere, that means all forty million have done it.

For a similar “the glass is 99 percent empty” approach, consider the way Digby excerpted a recent CNN poll. The poll included a survey of Tea Party supporters’ views toward “Wall Street bankers and brokers.” Digby selected one especially gloomy result:
DIGBY (10/24/11): In case you were wondering: 65% of Tea Partiers have an unfavorable opinion of OWS. And perhaps most unsurprising is the fact that they have the greatest faith in Wall Street of all cohorts in the poll, even believing that they are honest in much higher numbers than the rest of the country. (They do agree that they're greedy, but I'm guessing they see that as an admirable quality.)
Digby was happy to note that the glass was 65 percent empty. But the CNN poll also recorded these views among Tea Party supporters:

Forty-seven percent said Wall Street bankers and brokers were dishonest. 62 percent said they were greedy. 66 percent said they weren’t community minded. 58 percent said they were overpaid. People who want to build a wider American political movement might see possible paths in those survey results. But tribal minds are always looking for reasons to avoid engaging with “those people.” After all, we'll never get everyone in their tribe to see things in our perfect way!

Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve read Digby for years. We wish she wasn’t so heavily tribal; in our view, it tends to hold her back. That said, there’s always hope for improvement! Back in September 2010, Taibbi himself was somewhat dumbly mocking “those people” in the Tea Party tribe. To refresh yourselves, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/1/10.

In our view, Taibbi has come a long way! There may be hope for the tribal mind yet—and for the growth of a long-term, wider American movement, built out from the basic math which says that all us chickens are the 99 percent.


  1. Yet another post from Bob that's not yet drawn a comment from our resident troll, David in Cal! C'mon, Dave, our hearts are all a-twitter in anticipation of your words of...not wisdom, just trollery.

    Many TDH readers stay tuned because we count on Bob to call 'em as he sees 'em, no matter who gets skewered. Many of us do the same; we know Chuck Schumer is the Senator from Wall Street, and we fret how Obama and other Dems suck up to the top 1% and their corporations and PACs for campaign funds. A lot of Dems are just as bought and paid for as most GOPers. Like the millionaire pundits who extol them, most of today's pols are part of the problem.

    However, that open-mindedness makes this site prime trolling grounds for our Dave. Have you noticed how his links and citations always criticize Dems or liberals or government programs? Apparently in Dave's world, GOPers and conservatives and business leaders never do anything wrong! You can glimpse this alternate universe in Tom Tomorrow's comics, but he's satirizing it, not praising it.

    Dave, you're always going to be the butt of our laughter unless/until you recognize some shades of grey, some human folly and frailty and bad acting in all sectors. among all tribes, not just the one you don't belong to. Can you surprise us? Or will you just continue your nonstop tribal advocacy?

  2. I don't really consider Dave in Cal a troll. He makes substantive points and often backs them up with links or at least a reasonable argument. I don't see him engaging in name calling or making inflammatory remarks just to stir things up (which is my definition of a troll). I don't often agree with him, but I don't think he detracts from TDH in any way. Just my opinion.

  3. You need to ask whether David in Cal makes arguments in good faith or, more accurately, is he intellectually honest? Is he interested in the truth, or in forwarding a partisan and self-interested viewpoint?

    Note, for example, that David in Cal rarely responds to refutations; he simply turns up with another set of talking points.

    So draw your own conclusions....

  4. I don't think David in Cal is a troll. He does respond to people's criticism, and I don't think he is intentionally trying to derail conversations.

  5. Well, this thread has been effectively hijacked by BillNRoc. Does anyone have anything to say about the post?

  6. I have wondered about Digby (whose site I visit all the time, from whom I learn a lot, and in reading whom I try to filter out the kind of tribalism Bob S. is talking about here -- she's worth that effort) and commenters there who share her seething disdain for e.g. the Tea Partiers (and even for their sympathizers). Are the only "conservatives" these people have known well (or even just developed a friendly acquaintance with) either tedious upper class rich conservatives (not very interesting) or -- more to the point -- smug, petit bourgeois types? Especially if you grew up in a world full of the latter and, in leaving that world (or not leaving it entirely -- you may still be close to your family and growing-up world in many ways), have had to undergo some pretty wrenching personal stuff (and must endure painful Thanksgivings and such), I guess you might be very hard on people (e.g. Tea Party) when you get just a whiff of that kind of middle class smugness. Limiting and sometimes even counter-productive, but understandable. Just a thought.

  7. I think anyone ignoring the strong tribal and cultural elements of the American conservatives vs modernists is making a major mistake. The current political battle is not one ideology opposed to another. It is a mostly rural tribal culture being manipulated by many of the moneyed elites to attack the the central government.

    The reason for the conservative attack on the central government is that the federal government is the core of protection for the working and the middle classes against the predatory moneyed elites in banking, big business, and especially the extremely wealthy conservative families (the source of the demand to end the inheritance tax.) Those moneyed elites are predators on the working and middle classes and very much resent the interference from the federal government.

    The attack on the federal government is being conducted by conservatives who have crafted propaganda ideologies that are attractive to the rural economic and religious masses. They either want the feds neutered or under their control.

    The urban, modernist, and mostly Democratic groups are only just now becoming aware that they are under an organized attack. They have responded as separated individuals because they do not see that they are being attacked as a group. It is the process of seeping awareness that I see growing into the Occupy Wall Street movement.

    The tea partiers were responding to the same attacks on the mostly middle class, but the propaganda outlets were able to shift the blame from the true culprits (the moneyed elites and the right wing propaganda outlets) to the normal enemies of the upper middle class (the working class, the poor, minorities of all kinds especially gays and immigrants, and so on.

    The social forces that both the tea partiers and Occupy Wall Street are responses to are much the same. But the tea partiers are responding with fear and searching for enemies, so they were handed enemies to believe in by the right-wing media. OWS is operating on a different theory of cause-and-effect, and they are still searching for rational solutions rather than getting religious doctrines handed to them.

    So my opinion is that the difference between the two groups is mainly whether they think in modern or pre-scientific ways. Emile Durkheim described them as industrial culture or rural culture.

    I'll quite here. A thorough explanation is much too long for a comment.

  8. Humans aren't machines of industry. Humanity is devolved by industrial culture. Which would you rather be: a cog in the machine or a yeoman?

  9. The industrial revolution was caused by the increase in population together with the Enlightenment and it's scientific revolution. (also a few political accidents like the establishment of the Rule of Law in Europe by the Catholic Church.) The world has just passed 7 billion people, over half of whom live in cities and not on farms. All of the increase in current population goes to cities.

    I'd rather live in a city than fight to hold one of the farms that the rural landlords control. That's the current choice.

    As to whether humanity is devolved by industrial culture, I'll take whatever that devolution has been (questionable) and keep my electricity and internet, thank you. But I'd rather that happened in a democracy, something which the conservatives consider anathema.

    If you want to see what the conservative society looks like, look at the Latin American nations. Sharp distinctions between rich and poor, little democracy, unstable governments, widespread lack of education, weak rule of law and economies that develop slowly. Plenty of room for (starving or criminal) yoemen.

  10. What Richard said. All of it. OWS and the Tea Party shall not meet, regardless of the common frustration and sense that the fix is in. This is because OWS directs their ire toward the rich and powerful and the Tea Party directs their ire toward the poor and immigrants. It isn't quite accurate even to say that the TP is anti government, because in poll after poll, about 70% of them don't want Medicare touched, and they appear quite comfortable with an overweening national security state. Their ire toward the government is aimed at programs that support the poor and needy.

    These views are all revealed in polls if self identified TPers and with various interviews with them and with people with TP sympathies. If one reviews the available evidence and simply takes OWS people and TPers *at their word* one quickly understands there's little if any common ground.

    In fact, the notion that the TP was formed after the bailouts is nor accurate. The TP formed after the stimulus package passed and also in response to attempts to relieve troubles mortgage holders, not big banks. Worthwhile to view again Rick Santelli's famous rant.

  11. By the way, I'd add that I speak with Tea Party supporters on a regular basis and count many as friends and colleagues. I engage regularly with them about all of these issues and take them seriously...and at their word. Little if any common ground with OWS.

  12. ISTM a big part of the crony capitalism problem is laws and regs that allocate benefits or costs unequally. E.g., Bush gave billions of TARP dollars to selected selected companies, nothing to others. E.g., President Obama gave Obamacare waivers to 1600 or so selected organziations. When the government is playing favorites on a massive basis, it behooves organizations to do whatever they can to be the favored ones.

    Unfortunately, this system serves both wealthy organizations and politicians. Specific organizations can prosper by buying an in with the politicians in power. And, politicians get lots of donations, because organizations feel them must contribute in order to be treated well by the politicians. This problem transcends political party. I don't know what to do about it.