There’s a lot of talk about Occupy Wall Street these days. Many are trying to make the case that this is the Left’s version of the so-called “Tea Party”. Robert Reich doubts that the Occupy Wall Street movement represents for Democrats what the so-called “Tea Party” has represented for the Republicans.

At the very least it’s instructive to consider that the entire political spectrum has shifted right since Reagan, thanks to a startlingly effective marketing campaign waged by the corporatist right. That being the case, the Democratic Party are now effectively moderate Republicans and nearly as beholden to Corporatist donors as the Republican Party is. The main difference is that the Republicans are unabashed and, as Chris Hayes has said, unconflicted about their unflagging loyalty to the corporatists.

It’s also worth remembering that the so-called “Tea Party” is not so much a true populist movement as coralled right-wing anger that has been funded and directed by the likes of the Koch brothers.

The equivalent is not true of the Occupy Wall Street movement. True, it was initiated by adbusters, and that it is now being endorsed by certain unions and other progressive organizations. But the Occupy Wall Street movement has not (yet) been co-opted by establishment special interests, and it does not have its own propaganda network (as Fox “News” has been for the so-called “Tea Party”).

Here is what Robert Reich has to say on the subject.

The Wall Street Occupiers and the Democratic Party

by Robert Reich

Will the Wall Street Occupiers morph into a movement that has as much impact on the Democratic Party as the Tea Party has had on the GOP? Maybe. But there are reasons for doubting it.

Tea Partiers have been a mixed blessing for the GOP establishment – a source of new ground troops and energy but also a pain in the assets with regard to attracting independent voters. As Rick Perry and Mitt Romney square off, that pain will become more evident.

So far the Wall Street Occupiers have helped the Democratic Party. Their inchoate demand that the rich pay their fair share is tailor-made for the Democrats’ new plan for a 5.6 percent tax on millionaires, as well as the President’s push to end the Bush tax cut for people with incomes over $250,000 and to limit deductions at the top.

And the Occupiers give the President a potential campaign theme. “These days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren’t rewarded and a lot of folks who aren’t doing the right thing are rewarded,” he said at his news conference this week, predicting that the frustration fueling the Occupiers will “express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we’re getting back to some old-fashioned American values.”

But if Occupy Wall Street coalesces into something like a real movement, the Democratic Party may have more difficulty digesting it than the GOP has had with the Tea Party.

After all, a big share of both parties’ campaign funds comes from the Street and corporate board rooms. The Street and corporate America also have hordes of public-relations flacks and armies of lobbyists to do their bidding – not to mention the unfathomably deep pockets of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey’s and Karl Rove’s SuperPACs. Even if the Occupiers have access to some union money, it’s hardly a match.

Yet the real difficulty lies deeper. A little history is helpful here.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party had no trouble embracing economic populism. It charged the large industrial concentrations of the era – the trusts – with stifling the economy and poisoning democracy. In the 1912 campaign Woodrow Wilson promised to wage “a crusade against powers that have governed us … that have limited our development … that have determined our lives … that have set us in a straightjacket to so as they please.” The struggle to break up the trusts would be, in Wilson’s words, nothing less than a “second struggle for emancipation.”

Wilson lived up to his words – signing into law the Clayton Antitrust Act (which not only strengthened antitrust laws but also exempted unions from their reach), establishing the Federal Trade Commission (to root out “unfair acts and practices in commerce”), and creating the first national income tax.

Years later Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked corporate and financial power by giving workers the right to unionize, the 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. FDR also instituted a high marginal income tax on the wealthy.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street and big business went on the attack. In the 1936 campaign, Roosevelt warned against the “economic royalists” who had impressed the whole of society into service. “The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor … these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship,” he warned. What was at stake, Roosevelt thundered, was nothing less than the “survival of democracy.” He told the American people that big business and finance were determined to unseat him. “Never before, in all our history, have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!”

By the 1960s, though, the Democratic Party had given up on populism. Gone from presidential campaigns were tales of greedy businessmen and unscrupulous financiers. This was partly because the economy had changed profoundly. Postwar prosperity grew the middle class and reduced the gap between rich and poor. By the mid-1950s, a third of all private-sector employees were unionized, and blue-collar workers got generous wage and benefit increases.

By then Keynesianism had become a widely-accepted antidote to economic downturns – substituting the management of aggregate demand for class antagonism. Even Richard Nixon purportedly claimed “we’re all Keynesians now.” Who needed economic populism when fiscal and monetary policy could even out the business cycle, and the rewards of growth were so widely distributed?

But there was another reason for the Democrats’ increasing unease with populism. The Vietnam War spawned an anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian New Left that distrusted government as much if not more than it distrusted Wall Street and big business. Richard Nixon’s electoral victory in 1968 was accompanied by a deep rift between liberal Democrats and the New Left, which continued for decades.

Enter Ronald Reagan, master storyteller, who jumped into the populist breach. If Reagan didn’t invent right-wing populism in America he at least gave it full-throated voice. “Government is the problem, not the solution,” he intoned, over and over again. In Reagan’s view, Washington insiders and arrogant bureaucrats stifled the economy and hobbled individual achievement.

The Democratic Party never regained its populist footing. To be sure, Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 promising to “fight for the forgotten middle class” against the forces of “greed,” but Clinton inherited such a huge budget deficit from Reagan and George H.W. Bush that he couldn’t put up much of a fight. And after losing his bid for universal health care, Clinton himself announced that the “era of big government” was over – and he proved it by ending welfare.

Democrats have not been the ones to engage in class warfare. That was the distinct product of right-wing Republican populism. Anybody recall the Republican ad in the 2004 presidential election describing Democrats as a “tax-hiking, government spending, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak Show?”

Republicans repeatedly attacked John Kerry as a “Massachusetts liberal” who was part of the “Chardonnay-and-brie set.” George W. Bush mocked Kerry for finding a “new nuance” each day on Iraq – drawing out the word “nuance” to emphasize Kerry’s French cultural elitism. “In Texas, we don’t do nuance,” he said, to laughter and applause. House Republican leader Tom DeLay opened his campaign speeches by saying “Good morning or, as John Kerry would say, Bonjour.”

The Tea Party has been quick to pick up the same class theme. At the Conservative Political Action Conference of 2010, Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty attacked “the elites” who believe Tea Partiers are “not as sophisticated because a lot of them didn’t go to Ivy League Schools” and “don’t hang out at … Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco.” After his son Rand Paul was elected for Kentucky’s Senate seat that May, Congressman Ron Paul explained that voters want to “get rid of the power people who run the show, the people who think they’re above everyone else.”

Which brings us to the present day. Barack Obama is many things but he is as far from left-wing populism as any Democratic president in modern history. True, he once had the temerity to berate “fat cats” on Wall Street, but that remark was the exception – and subsequently caused him endless problems on the Street.

To the contrary, Obama has been extraordinarily solicitous of Wall Street and big business – making Timothy Geithner Treasury Secretary and de facto ambassador from the Street; seeing to it that Bush’s Fed appointee, Ben Bernanke, got another term; and appointing GE Chair Jeffrey Immelt to head his jobs council.

Most tellingly, it was President Obama’s unwillingness to place conditions on the bailout of Wall Street – not demanding, for example, that the banks reorganize the mortgages of distressed homeowners, and that they accept the resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act, as conditions for getting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars – that contributed to the new populist insurrection.

The Wall Street bailout fueled the Tea Party (at the Utah Republican convention that ousted incumbent Republican Senator Robert Bennett in 2010, the mob repeatedly shouted “TARP! TARP! TARP!”), and it surely fuels some of the current fulminations of Occupy Wall Street.

This is not to say that the Occupiers can have no impact on the Democrats. Nothing good happens in Washington – regardless of how good our president or representatives may be – unless good people join together outside Washington to make it happen. Pressure from the left is critically important.

But the modern Democratic Party is not likely to embrace left-wing populism the way the GOP has embraced – or, more accurately, been forced to embrace – right-wing populism. Just follow the money, and remember history.

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54 Responses to “Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party”

  1. rymplitane says:

    If you want to protect yourself from corruption, run your household in a non-corrupt manner. If you want to be free of the financially powerful, patronise their banks, use credit cards. in the system. How much is too much? Who says the Middle Class and Poor have enough. Compared to people in other countries, we live like kings.
    If you want more, work for it damn it!

  2. packlement says:

    LOL, you say “I condone racism in any instance” But, according to you ok for liberals, and democrats to do and say what they want including calls to violence and racial hatred, but not conservatives or republicans.

    Oh, and I grab a gun if I were you, probably get shot before you figure out how to load that gun or end up killing yourself out of sheer incompetence. Everyone knows conservatives actually know how to use firearms.

  3. suer nakum says:

    If the tea really got its way, we would all be better for it. Of course a British subject, Bashir, would have issue with American independence over tyrrany. Limey douche.

  4. “The military and prison industrial complexes are the only jobs programs we have in America.” Reich, former Second of Labor.



    —- copy & paste WE ARE THE 99% —-

  6. “>What you’re suggesting is that the government decide what is a fair wage for everyone to keep from their No, that is not *remotely* what he is suggesting. That is not how marginal, bracketed tax rates *work*. The *worst possible thing* the income tax can do is set a maximum income by taxing 100% marginally above that income. As long as it does *not* tax 100% at the top bracket, taking a larger pre-tax income will *always* result in a higher after-tax income. >If someone works hard and achieves success, why shouldn’t they benefit more than others? Somehow I don’t think Steve Jobs worked several million times as hard or as as the janitor. He built a successful business and derived *massive* wealth from *ownership* of that business. Income derived from ownership has *no relationship* to marginal work, but rather is related to the marginal price of the product of the initial work investment.”

  7. Chris Weigant: Notes From the Occupation: Occupy Wall Street is Not the Tea of the Left: Every so often, I…

  8. It’s not too late to secure your spot for the “Pooka Tea at the Pooka Body Boutique ~ ~

  9. It seems that at this point that all you can do is call people names because you disagree with them. You have already clearly stated your genocidal views. It doesn’t seem like there is much point to discussing the names you are calling me. Your comments at this point are growing increasingly childish not to mention irrelevent. It doesn’t surprise me though. Racism isn’t a rational thing. People like you who promote racism shouldn’t be expected to be rational, lol!

  10. holdebicky says:

    get over %8?
    %10 in IA
    %9 in NH
    as for “especially after Nevada”…
    %14 in NV, 2nd Place BTW
    …and not forget about the Louisiana scandal still going on…

  11. 99% The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film NYC Constellation TV Screening 1/7, 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film is a feature length documentary film made collaboratively by more than seventy-five independent filmmakers, photographers, videographers and editors across the country.

  12. hley chamirello says:

    NYU Will Now Be Teaching Your Children All About Occupy Wall Street:
    New York University is launching a class o…

  13. GOP & Tea have nuf CLOUT 2 back Rick SANTORUM / Michele BACHMANN in PRIMARY VICTORY – INSTEAD seems to CHOSE a PROGRESSIVE to

  14. Let’s do it! Fund this awesome book: Take This Book: The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street Pls –

  15. brierler miya says:

    Its extreme and crazy to think we can solve that in one night by cutting spending non stop and killing government agencies and military occupancy (which are public sector jobs) in a weakened economy while not turningu s into a third world country. Ok, really? Why would you leave a productive member of society to die on the street because they didn’t want to get health insurance. Answer that.

  16. Do you think for a moment that you will see that money in your pocket? you are a fool. does this redistribution of wealth also apply to the obama? how about the clintons? the kennedys? michale moore? all those beautiful people in hollywood? Why have you not gone after obama? wall street funded his election? take the occupiers up to the clintons house!! take it to the white house and you might get my attention, hey how about obamas 4 million dollar christmas to hawaii. out of your pocket.

  17. Alotta ppl know this but he was talkni bout Nivea in this song when he got engaged to Toya. Then when Nivea & the dream got married..he talks about it ALL!

  18. pontuzzi wong says:

    95% of African Americans vote democrat and why you see them at tea Watch youtube clip of Runaway Slave with Pastor CL Bryant for an eye opening lesson on the damage the progressive movement is doing to our country AND to the African American community.

  19. RT Those “lazy hippies” at Occupy Wall Street just released a 325-page rebuke to the watering down of Dodd-Frank reforms.

  20. benke fukashleng says:

    Occupy wall street is tweeting and retweeting too much – good info but I can’t sift through 200+ tweets/day just with you

  21. Bailiffs by police officers dismantled a tent encampment outside St. Paul’s Cathedral early on Tuesday, ending a four-month protest inspired by Occupy Wall Street.

  22. ouch! 41 states are cutting spending for public higher ed this year, tuition & fees are rising as a result.

  23. shard herse says:

    Woah!!! Occupy Wall Street is upping the game.. just announced they will be sleeping in the street tomorrow (live at –

  24. sharleinwa gard says:

    By a broad 23-point margin, Americans say the more they hear about the Tea movement, the less they like it.

  25. lettipah wicz says:

    Robert Reich

    As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote in 1904, “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

    read more

  26. Christian Science Monitor

    Citigroup shareholders revolt. Will CEO pay drop?
    Christian Science Monitor
    Citigroup’s shareholders have said no to an exorbitant pay package for the bank’s CEO, and why shouldn’t they? Executive pay across American companies has ballooned to unacceptable levels, without the performance to back it up.
    Citigroup Has Few Options After Pay VoteNew York Times
    For Citi, Waiting Can Pay DividendsWall Street Journal
    Citigroup’s Chief Rebuffed On Pay by
    The Seattle Times -USA TODAY -ABC News (blog)
    all 664 news articles »

  27. Occupy Wall Street is working if you’re measuring it by how many white people are getting pretty good at the bongos.

  28. benathy papadu says:

    Video: One Guitar – Occupy Wall Street – Chicago Nato Protests In Chicago during M17 – M20 NATO convened… –

  29. The Occupy Wall Street movement has been quietly racking up legal victories in with the third case … – –

  30. ceglian raffelschu says:

    Howard Stutz – Nevada’s richest list includes many with casino ties: In the age of the “Occupy Wall Street” mov….

  31. defantarro says:

    Policies that generate more widely shared prosperity lead to stronger and more sustainable economic growth — and that’s good for everyone.

  32. sch barkel says:

    Political Occupy Wall Street Black and White Vinyl Euro Decal Bumper Sticker 3″ X 5″: THIS IS A SELF-ADHESIVE HI…

  33. rom chizani says:

    A beautiful tea Jumped in a lake. Made smores. Took a nap. Don’t care about driving for 6 hours. Thank you isn’t enough

  34. sibold hild says:

    Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future By Reich Hardcover, 192 pages, $25.00 Knopf September 2010 One way to understand the paradox is loss of generational memory. While the trauma of the Great Depression echoed in the memories of people who came to adulthood in the 1930s (and who carried its lessons into the 1940s and 1950s), their children became adults during the Great Prosperity, and took it for granted. And their grandchildren, born during the Great Prosperity, had no actual, palpable memory of their grandparents’ experience of a fallible and unreliable market offset by a strong and reliable government. When this last generation became adults (from around the end of the 1970s onward), all they recalled was the failure of government and the apparent success of the market. This made government seem susceptible to the seductive rants of the free-marketers, who wanted to blame government for the economy’s failings. Moreover, they had no clear memory of…

  35. We are the 99% OWS Occupy Wall Street Protest Window or Bumper Sticker: This 8.25 x 3.25 Bumper Sticker has an a…

  36. ☮ : May Day 2012 Immigrant Worker Justice Throwdown | Occupy Wall Street VideoMay Day 2012 Immigrant Worker … ▼ –

  37. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote in 1904, “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” But the wealthiest Americans, who haven’t raked in as much of America’s income and wealth since the 1920s, are today paying a lower tax rate than they have in over 30 years.
    Agbisit liked Reich: Thoughts on Tax Day 2012 on 17 April 2012 (5 months ago).

  38. Just learned from Reich that he arranged for Specter to meet w/ Prof. Anita Hill. Small measure of healing from that.

  39. perschon javocklen says:


  40. Best summation of race in one 30 second spot. Do we want a Tea Zealot representing us in the U.S. Senate?

  41. Leader of MS Tea group – “Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting.” No, really: ht …

  42. casher rick says:

    While the GOP and Tea argue over whose to blame, the Ron Paul wing continues to gain US House seat … –

  43. vard-basti brecaporth says:

    you mean like the koch brothers payoffs the scientist to deny climate change and how they fund the tea –

  44. George Allen was endorsed Friday by a favorite of national tea Republicans, as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson came to Virginia to boost Allen’s bid to join him on Capitol Hill. Johnson was the owner of a plastic manufacturing company and a political novice when he beat prominent liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D), giving hi …
    Frankie Eskin liked George Allen gets endorsement from tea Sen. Ron Johnson on 21 April 2012 (7 months ago).

  45. magats schka says:

    Gun control activists take battle right to the NRA’s front door
    Also, the movement known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is to weigh-in and take action in regards to gun control legislation. The movement was born as a growing protest against Wall Street and big banks. They called themselves the “99%” of …
    and more »

  46. Now the tea is barely talked about and the few people that got into office have have become corrupted by the machine.

  47. What do you expect the POTUS to do? Off the cliff, that’s what we need to do, ask Reich. Why isn’t he on your show 2 night?

  48. The FBI classified Occupy Wall Street as criminals. The Obama administration classified Wall Street as a bunch of real good guys.

  49. ramlett librakabat says:

    Former Clinton Labor secretary Reich said he did not “understand”
    the likely nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel in a Sunday “This
    Week” panel.
    Let’s go to the videotape.

    Good question.
    The answer? Hagel is the only candidate who is sufficiently anti-Israel for Obama’s tastes.

  50. bidison scurikita says:

    National income tax was a key victory for progressives after Gilded Age when money ruled. The 16th Amendment, authorizing a national income tax, was the first new amendment in 40 years.

  51. But I think people got the film all wrong…it’s got nothing to do with occupy wall street or the tea –

  52. oline hemmer says:

    I got a random email about my occupy wall street post on my site inquiring about my opinion on it. SWERVE. You could miss me Mr.FBI im good –

  53. masatarres wein says:

    The tea was and founded by one of the Koch brothers 40 billion) who once ran for president on the ticket. I don’t think the tea was ever republican.

  54. Occupy’s first phase may now be over but it’s what happens next that will determine whether it has succeeded “Did Occupy make a difference?” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this. It’s usually at social gatherings after the inevitable “what do you do” question, and my reply that I write about social change. Until recently the question was slightly different – I was asked whether I thought Occupy would make a difference. But now it’s always in the past tense. While the tents have been (mostly) absent from St Paul’s for a year now, the perception that the movement in Britain is dead is slightly awry. Protests continue in solidarity with local anti-cuts campaigns, most recently in the form of occupations in a library and adventure playground in south London. But it’s true that the UK movement hasn’t managed to maintain the momentum on the scale of Occupy Wall Street, and the change it called for remains a way off. Having said that, the list of Occupy’s achievements…

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