Occupy Wall Street: Occupational Hazards
Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker:
“…Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both protest movements, not interest groups, and while both are wary, or claim to be, of established political figures and organizations, each welcomes their praise, if not their direction. Both have already earned places in the long, raucous history of ideologically promiscuous American populism. But only one, so far, has earned a place in the history of American government.
From the start, Democratic politicians and their center-left institutional allies watched the Tea Party with, besides fear and loathing, a certain professional envy. After Obama sailed into office on the biggest popular-vote majority in twenty years, Republicans were left treading water. A few months later, the Tea Party came along to pick them up, dry them off, give them a new suit of clothes, and set them on a starboard course to victory in the 2010 midterms. The rescue wasn’t free of charge, of course. The cost, to the country as well as to the sad remnants of moderate Republicanism, has been high. But there’s no denying the potency of whatever it was that the brave new party injected into the scarred veins of the grand old one.
Now Democrats are hoping that the drug might be available as a generic. Among the hopers, apparently, are President Obama (‘In some ways,’ he said recently, when asked about the Occupations, ‘they’re not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party’) and Vice-President Biden (‘Look, there’s a lot in common with the Tea Party’)
The Tea Party is simply better adapted to—and, despite its angry face, less alienated from—the actually existing environment of American politics and government. Its purported fear of coöption didn’t stop it from accepting millions of dollars (and offers of ‘training’) from Astroturf outfits like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, while Fox News and talk radio provided it with a ready-made apparatus for organizing and propaganda. The Tea Party has never doubted the efficacy of elections; it has focussed on officeholders and would-be officeholders all along. The paradigmatic Tea Party activity, in the summer of 2009, was to pack a local congressman’s ‘town hall’ and shout imprecations against Obamacare. By 2010 it was all electoral politics, all the time. And all Republican: Tea Partiers helped hard-right novices defeat scores of ‘establishment’ candidates in Republican primaries for federal, state, and local offices. The net effect on the November outcome was uncertain—though the Tea Party ‘energized the base’ everywhere, some of its recruits were so extremist they blew winnable races—but the impact on Republican governance, if that’s the right word, was unmistakable.”
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