03 October 2011
Has the left-wing Tea Party finally started?
As protests, demonstrations and occupations break out across the country in emulation of the ongoing and reportedly growing Wall Street protests, the image of the original demonstrations as an imitation of Tahrir Square in Cairo recedes, and Americans begin to imagine the birth of a movement that can be a counterpart and mass opposition to the two-year old Tea Party movement. The Wall Street Journal now acknowledges the movement's persistence, while E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post sees the occupations as a complement to if not a competitor with Van Jones's American Dream Movement among progressives. Dionne also makes the paradoxical suggestion that a better organized, more rhetorically forceful left could help President Obama's standing by making it more difficult for Republicans to label him a leftist. Based on comments seen in various places, I doubt this. On the Journal's comment page, someone calls the occupation astroturf laid by Obama and George Soros. The comment betrays a certain myopia on the right that compels many rightists to see "the left" as a monolithic menace. Elsewhere, Tea Partiers denounce comparisons between themselves and the new proto-movement. They note that Tea Parties have always been law-abiding, while taking the arrests of hundreds in New York as proof that the protesters are essentially lawless. In the long run, however, TPs will not have the last word on these phenomena. The comparisons will ultimately hold weight only if the various movements can exert political influence. If challenging a Democratic incumbent president in the primaries, or running a progressive independent against him, seems like too daunting or divisive a challenge, the new movement could target Congress, either by recruiting "fighting" Democrats to primary incumbents or by fighting Democrats as a whole with independent candidates. In New York State, at least, the Green Party is ideally situated to become the vehicle of this would-be movement, though not automatically equipped to cater to a potentially populist agenda. Finally, though, we should pause to question why these October outbreaks should necessarily be defined exclusively as phenomena of a "left." As some writers have suggested, opposition to Wall Street echoes the short-lived transpartisan opposition to the bailouts of 2008, while some if not many Tea Partiers have maintained their objections to "too big to fail" crony capitalism. Many more, apparently, believe that the solution to crony capitalism is to starve the beast of "big government" that supposedly alone enables it, on the assumption that, without politicized cheating, corporations will have to behave by immutable market rules. Behind their somewhat sincere objections to crony capitalism persists blind faith in capitalism and "the market" itself, reinforced by the propaganda mantra that government is to blame for every economic shortcoming. While some may argue that the emerging counter-movement is driven by a similarly irrational blind distrust of the corporate sector, that would not absolve the other side of its obligation to come to its senses before Americans can find common ground from which to fight the abuses of private and public sectors alike. If more people actually listen to what this month's protesters are saying, and if some of those in power actually respond, then another if not the other Tea Party will have proven some sort of success.