Tea and Sympathy

A number of commentators have compared the Occupy movement with the Tea Party. Although there are some similarities–mainly frustration with the status quo and anger at the political system–those comparisons ultimately fail.

The Tea Party–to judge by its spokespersons, placards and photos of meetings–is a profoundly reactionary movement. Its slogan is “I Want My Country Back,” and there hasn’t been much subtlety about the identity of those from whom they want it “back.” Viewed through a Tea Party lens, some people are more American than others.

The Occupy movement’s slogan is equally telling. “We are the 99 percent” is both an affirmation of how Occupiers see themselves and an expression of solidarity with the broad majority of Americans of all kinds.

Those who see the Occupy movement as a repeat of the Sixties miss an essential difference. As E.J. Dionne pointed out in a recent column,”The protests of that era were rooted in affluence. Too often in those years, the left cut itself off from the concerns of the white working class and disdained its values. That’s the history the right wants to revive. In fact, the Occupy demonstrations are precisely about the concerns of Americans who have been sidelined economically. This in turn is why polls show broad support for Occupy’s objectives of greater economic equality and more financial accountability.”

The response of the peaceful students who were pepper-sprayed at UC Davis was instructive. As numerous You Tube videos plainly showed, the students responded to unwarranted brutality by linking arms and remaining seated, despite the obvious pain they were experiencing. These were not Weathermen; they were earnest young people protesting a system that has been corrupted by ┬áthe haves–a system that now protects status and wealth at the expense of the poor and (dwindling) middle-class.

Whenever there is a “movement,” there are unhinged hangers-on, and neither the Tea Party nor Occupy should be judged by their fringes. That said, their common frustration with the status quo should not blind us to the very significant differences between them.

Nostalgia for a highly idealized past and a palpable resentment of “others” animates the Tea Party; sympathy and a demand for social justice motivates the Occupiers.


  1. Some additional similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupiers of Wall Street – both are tired of frustrations and fears of a diminished future. Virtually all want good jobs, to be upwardly mobile, to be able to pay off college loans and mortgages, and for our children to have a better future than that of their parents.

    Unfortunately, the future isn’t looking so bright for a dwindling middle class and poorer poor people. When folks are losing ground, they can turn on each other. Here’s hoping they hold corporate and political feet to the fire to improve the standard of living for all. Everyone is wealthier when everyone is wealthier.

  2. I think there are substantial similarities between the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both are grounded in populism. Both hate the fact that wealthy elites have used government to make themselves richer at the expense of average men and women. Both decry corporatism, the bailouts, even the Federal Reserve.

    While both identify the same problem, they have vastly different solutions. The Occupy folks think government needs to take affirmative steps to address inequities. The Tea Party people believe less government is generally the answer. The Occupy people have more faith in government action than do Tea Party people.

  3. I think Mr. Ogden beautifully summarized the collective outrage, commonly-perceived villains, and differing societal solutions.

    But for a perception somewhat widely-shared, it’s puzzling to me that one group has to be “nostalgic” and “resentful” while the other merely “demands social justice”.

    It is “nostalgic” to believe business as the creator of jobs, or a difference between affordable and unaffordable economic reality, or government with limits versus one that increasingly has no boundaries?

    It is “social justice”, or as logical as a child pointing to things they want in the toy store, to say we’re to pay for housing, college education, and retirement for all (atop a “right” to health care)?

    No disagreement on locking up Bernie Madoff and Raj Rajaratnam (convicted hedge fund manager) and throwing away the key. We can also tax the high income earners as wanted and gain a few more cents on the dollar our country (over)spends.

    We could also spread that “social justice” around and “redistribute” the contributions for federal income tax from all Americans- instead of only half. Or- asking for contributions, from all, for the benefits distributed, to all, constitutes “palapable resentment”?

    To simply demand our government stop spending money we don’t have is an “idealized past”?

Comments are closed.