OCCUPY THE TEA PARTY: Are they natural allies?


Part 1—What Taibbi said: According to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, the Occupy Wall Street movement “is bigger than left or right.”

What could Taibbi mean by that? In this recent blog post, the highly suggestible Rolling Stone hothead made an outrageous statement:

“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.”

Say what? Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are somehow “natural allies?” As he continued, Taibbi cited those too-big-to-fail banks as the kind of issue on which the two movements should really eye-to-eye.

He also said this about the idea that the two movements are natural allies: “[T]hat's a story our media won't want to or know how to handle.”

Just for now, let’s put “our media” to the side. Let’s focus instead on Taibbi’s key claim. Are these movements really “natural allies” in some important respect?

Are these two movements “natural allies?” We wouldn’t put it that way ourselves. But Taibbi’s piece has generated a fair amount of discussion. Here at THE HOWLER, we have been most intrigued by Digby’s scowling reactions.

For today, let’s try to get clear on Taibbi’s basic assertions. Are these two movements “natural allies?” And why in the world is Matt Taibbi making these crazy statements?

For starters, let’s put Taibbi’s nugget statement into its larger context. This is the fuller text containing his outrageous statement:
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, if it can get enough "facts" to back it up. They know how to do that story and most of our political media is based upon that Crossfire paradigm of left-vs-right commentary shows and NFL Today-style team-vs-team campaign reporting.

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.
Why does Taibbi think these two movements are “natural allies?” For the most part, it’s because he’s applying the Occupy Wall Street movement’s basic math. The Occupy movement claims to speak for “the 99 percent.” In this basic representation, this movement is saying that the top one percent—the so called Masters of the Universe—have waged a long and successful war against the interests of everyone else.

If that’s true, then the bulk of the Tea Party movement is drawn from the ranks for whom the Occupy Wall Street movement claims to speak. They’re from “the 99 percent” too, just like the Occupy people! If the top one percent has really been looting the 99, then most Tea Party supporters have been getting looted, just like everyone else.

In that sense, Taibbi can imagine the two groups becoming political allies. For our money, he overthinks the nature of this natural alliance as he describes the depredations those too-big-to-fail banks:
TAIBBI (continuing directly): Take, for instance, the matter of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks, which people like me and Barry Ritholz have focused on as something that could be a key issue for OWS. These gigantic institutions 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.

This is an issue for the traditional "left" because it's a classic instance of overweening corporate power—but it's an issue for the traditional "right" because these same institutions are also the biggest welfare bums of all time, de facto wards of the state who sucked trillions of dollars of public treasure from the pockets of patriotic taxpayers from coast to coast.
Taibbi isn't "wrong" in this passage—but he may be overthinking a bit. Why is this a potential issue for the traditional left and the traditional right? Forget those standard political frameworks! At its simplest, this is a potential issue for both sides because “millions of ordinary people” on both sides have been put out of their homes! Whatever your general views might be, many people of your political stripe have been victimized by those “massive fraud schemes.” You may think tend to red or you may tend to think blue: Those “gigantic institutions” didn’t play favorites when they cooked up their vast schemes.

In that sense, we agree that people within these two movements have a great deal in common. Whether you’re red or whether you’re blue, people you know have been robbed by those banks. Whether you’re red or whether you’re blue, you are currently getting looted in the price of health care—and your wages have been stagnant because of that health care looting.

Many people who tend to think “red” may not see those issues this way. Might they become allies of the Occupy movement? That would depend on that movement’s ability to persuade such people to see the world in this new (accurate) way.

The extent to which these movements may become “allies” remains to be seen, of course. To some extent, that will depend on the way various people within the two movements react to this possibility.

Taibbi offered a warning in his piece: Many people in the red and blue worlds will fight to keep an alliance from happening!

Over here on our blue side of the aisle, we keep thinking we see that instinct in action when we read Digby’s work.

Tomorrow: What Digby said

For part 2 of this report: Just click here


  1. Very good post, but I do have one question, and it's one that could be asked by millions of middle- and working-class Americans, Democrat or otherwise, people in the Real World: Who is Digby? And why do we care so much what she says?

    I don't know a single person from any walk of like who knows who Digby is.

  2. As a rule, Somerby's talking to liberals who read the interwebz, Geoff. In that population subgroup, virtually everyone knows who Digby is.

    But your pretense aside, you know that too, so, I waste my time...

    OTOH: the post I imagine Bob refers to is


    The links there seem to suggest Digby feels liberals are at risk of extreme violence from the right wing, including Tea Partiers (who seem to be implicitly compared to minions of the Egyptian military).

    At the level of individual motivations, I don't doubt there are some folk with very ugly ideas in any given political group. It's just that psychologising groups is a very speculative process.

    And when it passes beyond even that into essentially declaring entire groups of people as having pathological mindsets (which is a reoccurring theme at Digby's house, especially among the commentariat) -- well then you're looking at stupid liberal behavior of the first order...

  3. I actually don't know who Digby is, other than she exists and that Bob doesn't care much for her tribalism. Seriously, you could waterboard me, and I couldn't give up any info on her.

    What liberals read on the Interwebz, and who they read, and what those whom they read think, are of almost no relevance to the working- and middle-class people whom we liberals are supposed to count as allies and for whom we advocate.

    Really, I cannot imagine any discussion more utterly irrelevant to the concerns of most people in the US than what this Digby person says about anything.

    Is it any wonder we liberals and progessives don't break through to the working class? Look at how we spend our time! Playing Deconstructing Digby!

    Can we talk?

  4. Geoff, do you know who Bob Somerby is? (Go ahead, click here to find out.) And why should we care so much what he says, given who he is? Yet here we are; I read his blog every day.

    Digby is a real person, a woman in California who has been writing about politics for years. I like her writing. Bob does too, sometimes. People care about what digby says because she writes well, is opinionated, and has a following. That's really all it takes.

    If you truly want to know who digby is, do your due diligence. Or be lazy and click here.

  5. The people whom liberals most want to persuade to our cause and whom we advocate for most passionately, don't know who Digby is, don't care, and don't spend their days and nights parsing her every irrelevant word. Liberals who obsess over interweb personalities live in an echo chamber that is about as removed from the concerns of everyday people as MoDo is from reality.

    Millions are unemployed, suffering; millions more live in fear and despair. We deconstruct Digby. No wonder we're irrelevant.

  6. Digby is a stand-in for articulate liberals who seem to actually despise working class and middle class people who support Republicans and/or the Tea Party. I know people in real life like this--sometimes I'm like that. It's a longstanding claim of conservatives that liberals are snobs, going back to Spiro Agnew and Bob says there is unfortunately some truth to it. Bob thinks that's part of why liberals lose elections--because some of us really are snobs.

  7. You have to consider this blog in it's limited context. I don't recall any of Somerby's posts being specifically policy related. I think he makes a conscious effort not to. But he is very good at pointing out the MSM tribal's arrogance and dimwittedness. Few people are doing the job he is so be happy about that, even if he doesn't do much else.

  8. Taibbi got this from The Howler, I believe.

    The Howler put this idea in the air.

    Taibbi may have even seen The Howler link someone put up on nakedcapitalism.com the other day, _using those exact words 'natural allies.'

    Bob I do believe you change the world.

    Keep howling.

  9. Here's that NC post -- guess it must have been independent of Taibbi, but I know the Howler put it in the air back from 9/30/11 and way before in his treads. From an NC OWS thread:

    diddywa says:
    October 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm
    If this is going to move, one way or another it has to go this way. Maybe it’s the way it’s already going, one can hope.

    Liberals have to win over our natural allies, those who already mostly agree, but will not listen because our leaders and commenters look down on them.

    This has to stop. Now.

    We don’t own the MSM. We do have leaders though, like here, in the ‘internets.’

    Here’s the point. I cheered the tea party at first. They started by fighting bailouts. Maybe they’ve been taken over, I don’t know. But the ones who started it still feel the same. They are the 99% too.

    I can’t say it so eloquently. Please see: http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2011/09/missing-movement-watch-if-we-could-talk.html

    And more of Bob Somersby’s comments, like his Where the Wild Things Are blog thread. And don’t listen any longer to any leaders who tell us:

    It has to be Us vs Them!