Updated: November 16, 2011 2:00PM
If you’re a conservative, you’re having a hard time not chortling over Democrats’ struggle over whether to embrace the Occupy Wall Street crowd. For years, liberals have taunted Republicans over some of the more dramatic right-wing policy goals of the Tea Party. Now Democrats have a left-wing uprising on their hands with a far more extreme worldview.
Democrats would like to harness the Occupiers’ energy the way the GOP did Tea Party passion to win control of the U.S. House in 2010. The question is whether the unfocused ultra-liberal street demonstrators have the staying power of the Tea Party partisans. There’s also the issue of whether Occupiers’ behavior and ideology are out of step with mainstream America, as Democrats say the Tea Party is, despite its electoral successes.
The two movements bear a superficial resemblance or two. Both are insurgencies erupting outside traditional party structures. Anger seethes in both camps over the government bailout of big banks and financial giants.
But Tea Partiers understood that the bailout — and their other grievances about runaway federal spending and a huge, partisan-driven expansion of government as symbolized in Obamacare — were rooted in politics and the answer to their complaints was in political organizing. The Tea Party had a concrete agenda, such as to reduce government spending and return to limited government.
The anti-Wall Street bunch and their offshoots in other cities have more amorphous complaints and, for the most part, no agenda other than shouting their opposition to Wall Street “greed” and power. Occupy Chicago is one of the few factions to publish an agenda — including repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich; limiting the influence of lobbyists; eliminating “corporate personhood,” and forgiving student loans. The latter is rather self-serving because many in the crowd are young.
The Tea Partiers and the Occupiers also diverge in behavior. Tea Party crowds could be boisterous, uncivil and disorderly, but their ire was aimed at politicians. Otherwise, they tended to be polite and cleaned up after their demonstrations.
The Occupiers take out their fury on society in general. They disrupted traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. They clogged a portion of Michigan Avenue, causing headaches for Chicago commuters. They charged into the Air and Space Museum in Washington, forcing it to close its doors early to tourists.
Few Tea Partiers, if any, have been arrested. Seven hundred Occupiers were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. They sometimes fought police. One punched a police officer during a Chicago protest. They’ve camped out in a public space near Wall Street, leaving smelly piles of garbage. The British news outlet MailOnline published a photo of a demonstrator relieving himself on a police car. New York Police costs have hit $1.9 million and counting.
Such antics have some Democrats worrying about how fully to embrace the Occupy Wall Street circus. Democrats also can’t escape their history of raking in millions of dollars from Wall Street for the campaign apparatuses of party leaders such as President Barack Obama and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.
Who knows, maybe the excesses of the Occupiers may end up making the Tea Party look moderate and mainstream.