The tea party’s splendid successes, which have altered the nation’s political vocabulary and agenda, have inspired a counter-movement — Occupy Wall Street. Conservatives should rejoice and wish for it long life, abundant publicity and sufficient organization to endorse congressional candidates deemed worthy. All Democrats eager for Occupy Wall Street’s imprimatur, step forward.
In scale, Occupy Wall Street’s demonstrations-cum-encampments are to tea party events as Pittsburg, Kan., is to Pittsburgh, Pa. So far, probably fewer people have participated in all of them combined than attended just one tea party rally, that of Sept. 12, 2009, on the Washington Mall.
In comportment, Occupy Wall Street is to the tea party as Lady Gaga is to Lord Chesterfield: Blocking the Brooklyn Bridge was not persuasion modeled on tea party tactics.
Still, Occupy Wall Street’s defenders correctly say it represents progressivism’s spirit and intellect. Because it embraces spontaneity and deplores elitism, it eschews deliberation and leadership. Hence its agenda, beyond eliminating one of the seven deadly sins (avarice), is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.
Unfortunately for Occupy Wall Street, big government’s scandal du jour, the Obama administration’s Solyndra episode of crony capitalism, does not validate progressivism’s indignation, it refutes progressivism’s aspiration, which is for more minute government supervision of society.
Solyndra got to the government trough with the help of a former bundler of Obama campaign contributions who was an Energy Department bureaucrat helping to dispense taxpayer money to politically favored companies. His wife’s law firm represented Solyndra. But, then, government of the sort progressives demand — supposed “experts,” wiser than the market, allocating wealth and opportunity by supposedly disinterested decisions — is not just susceptible to corruption, it is corruption. It is political favoritism with a clean (even green) conscience.
Demands posted in Occupy Wall Street’s name include a “guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment”; a $20-an-hour minimum wage (above the $16 entry wage the United Auto Workers just negotiated with GM); ending “the fossil fuel economy”; “open borders” so “anyone can travel anywhere to work and live”; $1 trillion for infrastructure; $1 trillion for “ecological restoration” (e.g., reestablishing “the natural flow of river systems”); “free college education.”
And forgiveness of “all debt on the entire planet period.” Progressivism’s battle cry is: “Mulligan!” It demands the ultimate entitlement — emancipation from the ruinous results of all prior claims of entitlement.
Imitation is the sincerest form of progressivism because nostalgia motivates progressives, not conservatives. Tea Party Envy is leavened by Woodstock Envy — note the drum circles at the Manhattan site — which is a facet of Sixties Envy. Hence conservatives should be rejoicing.
From 1965 through 1968, the Left found its voice and style in consciousness-raising demonstrations and disruptions. In November 1968, the nation, its consciousness raised, elected Richard Nixon president and gave 56.9 percent of the popular vote to Nixon or George Wallace. Republicans won four of the next five presidential elections.
Perhaps things will go better for progressives this time. Barack Obama feels their pain — understands their “frustration.” America’s median income has declined even faster since the recovery began three Junes ago than it did during the recession, students are graduating into a jobless “recovery,” African-Americans and Hispanics have unemployment rates of 16 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively, but Obama is on the case: He wants corporate jets to be taxed more.
Occupy Wall Street must still, however, raise the consciousnesses of backsliding congressional Democrats who have decided that, unlike the president, they do not believe that “the rich” begin at household incomes of $250,000.
Tahrir Square Envy also motivates America’s Progressive Autumn, the Left’s emulation of the Arab Spring. Of course, some lagoons of advanced thinking, such as Montgomery County, Md. — it is a government workers’ dormitory contiguous to Washington — were progressive before Occupy Wall Street’s drum (circle) beat became progressivism’s pulse. The Montgomery County town of Takoma Park is a “nuclear-free zone,” meaning it has no truck with nuclear weapons.
Responding to peace activists, some Montgomery County Council members sponsored a resolution to instruct Congress to slash defense spending. The idea died when Virginia began inviting the county’s second-largest private-sector employer, Lockheed Martin, to move across the Potomac. To Occupy Wall Street, this proves the power of the plutocracy. To the tea party, it proves the virtue of federalism.
As Mark Twain said, difference of opinion is what makes a horse race. It is also what makes elections necessary and entertaining. So: Occupy Wall Street versus the tea party. Republicans generally support the latter. Do Democrats generally support the former? Let’s find out. Let’s vote.
George Will’s email address is georgewill@ washpost.com.