Occupy Wall Street versus The Tea Party

Core Differences Beneath Surface Parallels – Published on ZNet, by Paul Street, October 28, 2011.

… The Tea Party’s Fake and Rancid Populism:

Beyond easily noticeable similarities, however, deep and fundamental differences significantly undermine the Tea Party – OWS parallel posited by Scherer and other mainstream commentators. As Anthony DiMaggio and I showed in our book Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011), the quickly entrenched and mainstreamed media description of the Tea Party as a refreshing, independent-nonpartisan, anti-establishment, insurgent, grassroots, populist, and democratic force that constituted a leaderless and decentralized popular social and political protest movement was deeply inaccurate.  

The Tea Party’s active membership, leadership and support base in 2010 (the year of the Tea Party phenomenon’s greatest significance and popularity) were far from grassroots and popular.”They were considerably more affluent and far more reactionary than the U.S. citizenry as a whole. They were comparatively well off and Middle American, very predominantly white, significantly racist, militaristic, narcissistically selfish, viciously hostile to the poor, deeply undemocratic, profoundly ignorant and anti-intellectual, and highly reliant on propagandistic right-wing news and commentary for basic political information. Many of its leaders and members exhibited: profound philosophic contempt for collective action; a disturbing and revealing uniformity of rhetoric across groups, cities, and regions; a stunning absence of real and deeply rooted local organizing; and a predominant prioritization of Republican electioneering over grassroots protest of any kind.

The Tea Party was and is not a social movement at all but rather a loose conglomeration of partisan interest groups set on returning the Republican Party to power. It is Astroturf and partisan Republican to the core. It is not an uprising against a corrupt political system or against the established social order. It is a reactionary, top-down manifestation of that system, dressed up and sold as an outsider rebellion set on changing the rules in Washington. Far from being antiestablishment, the Tea Party is a classic, right-wing, and fundamentally Republican and significantly racist and victim-blaming epitome of what the formerly left political commentator Christopher Hitchens once called the essence of American politics … the manipulation of populism by elitism. It is an ugly, authoritarian, nationalistic, significantly racist and fake-populist pseudo-movement directed from above and early on by and for elite Republican and business interests like the right wing billionaires Charles and David Koch and the longtime leading Republican operative Dick Armey.

Everything the Tea Party Pretended to Be and Isn’t, OWS is A Leaderless, Grassroots, and democratic Social Movement: … //

… Police and Media Response: Worthy versus Unworthy Protest:

Last but not least, the Tea Party and OWS have elicited considerably different responses from government authorities and the dominant corporate media. As a fake-populist pseudo-movement that is strongly aligned with existing dominant domestic and global hierarchies of class, race, gender, and empire, Tea Party activists have faced  little if anything in the way of state repression. They pose no threat to the existing corporate, military, sexist, eco-cidal and white-supremacist state and have therefore operated free of government harassment, surveillance, arrest, violence, and incarceration. Things have been very different for OWS and its offshoots. Its genuinely radical-populist and democratic character, its opposition to the aforementioned hierarchies, and its militant determination to resist authority and to claim and create public space have meant that it has been subjected to repeated arrest, brutality, and ongoing surveillance by state authorities.

The pattern of media response is also quite different for the same basic reason. The Tea Party in its expansion phase received wildly outsized and favorable coverage and commentary that was largely consistent with its own deceptive self-branding as a genuinely populist, independent, grassroots anti-establishment protest movement with real and reasonable and detailed policy solutions that reflected widespread moderate and majority opinion against the supposed extremism of Washington and its purportedly left-leaning, big government president Barack Obama. Predictably enough given corporate media’s bias on behalf of what it considers worthy protests (those that reinforce existing dominant hierarchies) and against what it sees as “unworthy protests” (ones that that challenge those hierarchies), OWS has received far less and less favorable coverage and commentary. That coverage and commentary has tended to be dismissive, treating the new and actual populist movement as confused, contradictory, ignorant, paranoid, chaotic, un-focused, irresponsible, inchoate and generally without serious alternatives and solutions. How, interesting that a significant plurality of Americans nonetheless find OWS’s basic goal – a more equitable distribution of wealth and power in the U.S. and the world – clear enough to agree with … (full long text).

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