If a pollster rings up today and asks us what we think of the Tea Party and the newer Occupy Wall Street movement, many of us would say that they are different groups entirely, maybe even polar opposites.
Some of us might go on to say that the Tea Party is a right-wing movement, giving a more boots-on-the-ground boost of energy to Republicans but also giving the GOP establishment a bad case of heebie jee-bie anxiety lest the rightest right Tea Partiers scare independent voters directly into the Democratic fold. Some of us might also say that Occupy Wall Street is a liberal movement, well intentioned but risking damage to American free enterprise with a credo and goals so amorphous that not even the die-hard adherents camping out all over American are able to articulate them.
Some of us might well be wrong.
The Tea Party rose to national prominence in the weeks and months preceding the 2010 General Elections. It is a seemingly populist movement born of the frustration of a sour economy and fueled by animosity toward government at all levels. If the Tea Party had a slogan, it would almost certainly be the words of its iconic President, Ronald Reagan, who intoned at every opportunity, “Government is the problem, not the solution.”
The Tea Party mopped up for Republicans in the 2010 off year elections, changing the balance of power in Congress and in state legislatures across the land.
Enter Occupy Wall Street carrying signs saying “Eat the Rich” and attacking the excesses of American Big Business, the financial institutions and their practices which drove us smack into the Great Recession from which we have yet to thoroughly emerge. Its Democratic leaning mes-sage says that the rich must pay their fair share of taxes, at least in the same percentages as middle-class teachers, policemen, fire fighters, and mom and pop businesses. You and I may be counting our pennies, but Forbes recent release of the 10 highest-paid CEOs in the nation shows that some people need not worry at all. Someone I have never heard of, John Hammergren of McKesson, a health care conglomerate, will bring home the top paycheck this year at a cool $161,000,000. Everyone’s favorite polo enthusiast, Ralph Lauren, comes in a somewhat distant second, bringing home $66,700,000 worth of bacon this year. It is hard for people out of work and maybe even for some diehard free-enterprisers to make sense of those numbers, but they are kerosene on the flames for Occupy Wall Street.
So, can we expect our television screens to be covered by Tea Partiers and Wall Street Occupiers yelling at each other every second between now and Election Day 2012?
I suspect not as much as one might think, because while their political leanings may indeed tilt in opposite directions, both movements were birthed by the same tired mother.
Both were born of economic frustration and alienation from society at large. President Obama spoke about this to ABC News on his visit to North Carolina last month.
Addressing Occupy Wall Street, the President said, “I understand the frustrations being expressed in those pro-tests. In some ways, they’re not that different from some of the protests we saw coming from the Tea Party. Both on the left and on the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren’t looking out for them.”
The President is right.
Millions of Americans do feel that way, even those of us who are neither Tea Partiers nor Occupy Wall Streeters.
For several months now, I have been explor-ing different eras of American history, particu-larly our Civil War and World Wars I and II, pondering what events and movements gave rise to massive societal change. My own generation initiated tremendous change during the 1960s, although this Baby Boomer certainly did not grasp the magnitude of change and its repercussions at the time.
Could it be that the Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Street are the advance guard of a larger movement that will demand reform of both gov-ernment and business? Are we witnessing the first stretches and stirrings of the tiger of change of the Precious Jewels’ generation, a tiger that will sweep away the old and tired and replace them with something yet to be formed?
No one knows the answers to those questions, but 2012 and the elec-tions next fall will certainly reveal clues. As unscientific as this may be, I sense significant change not unlike what I experienced earlier in my life forming at this later stage of my journey.
I think not.
Photo: No one knows the answers to those questions, but 2012 and the elections next fall will certainly reveal clues.