Sadly, the more the Tea Party called for such aims, the more it exclusively targeted Democrats, Liberals, Progressives and an alleged “big nanny government,” while caring nothing for the issue of the obvious and poisonous power of big business, except in opposing bailouts.
Though debates rage about the Tea Party’s origins—whether truly grass roots or merely astroturf—one thing was certain: in short order the group received significant backing by organizations like The Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, both organizations that sought to push corporate personhood and unrestrained free market principles, such as the ability by any corporation at any time and in any place to pollute the commons with impunity, the people be damned.
For this reason, the organizations and their Tea Party darlings especially targeted the Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to undo hard-won rules favored by a super majority of the people, and even seeking to end the agency altogether.
It also wedded itself to the Birther movement, inviting key Birther leader Joseph Farah to deliver a speech at the first Tea Party convention. Most confusingly, the Tea Party has wanted to be both in and out of the Republican party.
An ideology at odds with itself
Tea Partiers claim to be focused on fiscal and economic issues, including concern over business and banking bailouts. Yet they also want to minimize or eliminate taxes that business pay, remove regulations that govern business to protect the people, and oppose popular programs funded by taxpayers, such as Social Security, Medicare and services like public schools.
At the same time, Tea Partiers push the standard fare of far-right socially conservative values such as anti-abortion and anti-gay rights, making them inconsistent adherents at best of the libertarianism they profess to embrace. Confusing?
Vexingly, both Republicans and Tea Partiers are content with some government intervention, just as long as that intervention favors their pet issues or rewards businesses they’re aligned with. To this end, their calls for “taking back the government” have little consistency. Theirs is really just a cherry picker’s paradise.
And though a good many self-identified Tea Partiers have middle American bona fides, your garden variety Tea Partier also calls for freer rein for corporations. If it sounds vaguely “free market” every last Tea Partier is only too eager to open the flood gates for plutocracy to grow tenfold, no matter what affect that would have on the average American’s life.
Indeed, more freedom for individuals, which is what libertarianism would profess, is not the same as more freedom for corporations, which would, by its very definition, erode personal freedoms by giving unrestrained freedoms to supra-human entities.
For these reasons, after their surprise debut, the Tea Party message grew increasingly muddled.
Tea Party and #Occupy cross over?
Whatever common ground some say exists between Tea Partiers and #Occupiers, such as concern over bailouts, deficits, and the ability to “petition our government” for change, the similarities end there. Free market ideology and a government that puts citizens before big business don’t make for ready bedfellows.
While #Occupiers want to see Wall Street’s flagrant illegalities punished, to start taxing and regulating currency trades, and rebuild the wall separating banking from speculation, the Tea Party, in thrall to free market ideology, wants to leave it to the invisible hand to provide a corrective when and if the “market” (presumably a stand in for the citizen-polity) reacts.
And it’s here where competing claims to freedom begin to clash, without the Tea Party having any answer beyond their unwavering adherence to the “free market.”
To add insult to injury, the Tea Party actively wants to tie the public’s hands behind its back by arguing that government is the last instrument that should be brought to bear on policy concerning business or pretty much anything else.
Free market ideology is so alive and well and thriving in the Tea Party that its message is nothing short of inviting Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Business to run the world unimpeded.
And that’s a disconnect for #Occupiers.
#Occupiers aren’t anti-business or anti-capitalist, as the FOXified caricatures paint them. They just maintain that the market is subordinate to the citizenry, not the other way around.
As much as the Tea Party purports to be a representation of the little guy, it wants to shrink to irrelevance the only intermediary the so-called little guy—or any given American citizen—has between his or her self, and the the forces of multinational, vast corporations: a responsive government.
Talk to the invisible hand
As the #Occupy movement has gained steam, the Tea Party has hit back against a perceived threat, increasing it’s free market drum beat while calling #Occupiers deadbeats.
A recent statement by the Tea Party calls for getting “our country back to its capitalist roots,” suggesting the nation was founded on a certain kind of economy rather than on the politics of equality; and on the corporation rather than on the rights of man. It’s a statement that shows a dubious grasp of history at best, and a gross revisionism at worst.
Tea Party Patriot co-founders Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler see #Occupiers and their sympathizers as the problem, not the solution, saying they want “a bigger, more powerful government to come in and take care of them so they don’t have to work like the rest of us who pay our bills.”
That’s a pretty strong charge of coordinated, manipulative laziness within the citizenry.
But it’s not just the disparaging personal accusations. It’s the incessant arguing against any recourse for the people while purporting to be about “we the people,” that makes the Tea Party so confused.
Essentially arguing that no rights for workers, no bulwark against pollutants or pesticides, no recourse for knowing product contents or food sources, no restraint on Wall Street bets against stakeholders or other malfeasance, and no policy to address the fairness of resource use and impact somehow enhances “freedom” and the quality of life for Americans, the Tea Partiers leave it to the citizen to stand alone in addressing the forces of corporate control.
They point to the courts as a context to play out grievances (after the fact), suggesting that an ordinary citizen with limited time and money can contest fairly against corporations with huge legal budgets and all the time in the world (corporations, not being persons, don’t actually live or die).
Theirs is an ideology that favors the wealthy over the 99% that the #Occupiers talk about because, in Tea Party logic, if a free market equals more freedom for all, and more unrestrained access to wealth and wealth production is a natural extension of freedom, then those who have more wealth are granted more freedom over and against anyone who has not amassed as much wealth. Tea Partiers see such wealth acquisition as inherently natural, right, just, and good, no matter how it is acquired, including unethically, because to govern ethics is to put a limit on “freedom” as a market force which they regard as greater than the rights of people and Constitutional law.
Tea Party free-marketism essentially says, let anyone do whatever they want short of obvious murder and if there’s a problem, the “market” will magically intervene to make it all better. Now this “market” may take decades, even centuries to undo a wrong, but the point is that eventually the wrong is undone, or, well…sort of. Even if there is no undoing of the wrong, the market at least stops “future wrongs” of the same sort.
And that’s just the invisible hand giving us the invisible finger.
Just laws for the common good
#Occupiers on the other hand, seek fairness for the greatest number of people in alignment with a people’s government. No, they don’t apologize for wanting a representative intermediary—that’s what the country was founded to achieve.
The #Occupiers recognize that whenever any individuals, organizations, or businesses meet in the marketplace of real world activity (economic or not), there will be competing claims to freedom. Freedom, we should remember, is always two-sided —both positive and negative. Freedom is not only fredom for, but it is also freedom from. That is the origin of competing claims to freedom.
The #Occupier’s logic says that those claims must be worked out in advance where possible. This stance requires the people’s voice as a key claimant on the common good. But it doesn’t have to mean that the people are inherently “anti-business” nor that there must be an overly heavy hand in regulation. It simply implies a fair compromise on competing demands based on, first of all, the rights of living, breathing human beings. Citizens. You know, the ones cited in the Constitution, The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
People versus non-human corporations in conflict
To take a keen and potent example, consider the lives of those who live downhill and down stream from some of the dirtiest coal production in the US. Those citizens have, for decades, opposed mountaintop removal coal mining for fouling their streams, giving their kids cancer, and endangering the future of their communities.
But the free market Tea Party essentially says “tough luck” to anyone unfortunate enough to live downstream of the very dirty oil extraction activities, arguing that if West Virginians (or others) have a concern about toxicity, they should go to court to try to work it out once they can make a legitimate claim to measurable injury.
#Occupiers, on the other hand, look further back in history, to the concept of the commons, arguing that ancient law decrees that all people have the right to clean air and water and to land for growing food and hunting game. To preserve those essential freedoms, on which a healthy life itself depends, #Occupiers argue that the people need an arbitrating body to act on behalf of the people, hence a representative government responsible first and foremost to the interests of its human citizens.
#Occupiers maintain that each and every one of us can not be all places at all times trying to defend ourselves against abuses to our system, and that we must therefore have representation to work on our behalf to preserve and protect our essential liberties against potential or probable injury. These are liberties that require arbitration before the fact, as in the laws that govern the nation, and enforcement agencies with teeth to see the people’s business through to fairness and completion.
When ideology becomes fact and precedent
To stick with the coal example, a fixation on economy, and the market, leads Big Coal and its torch bearers in lobbying firms, elected office, and the conservative media to argue that coal creates jobs. And by extension that jobs, rather than any other element of human life, trump all.
But the facts make quick work of their contradictions.
The free market, being how the free market is, tries to do the most work at the least cost to maximize corporate profit, a requirement of shareholder economics. So it is for coal —profits above all.
In reality, over the past thirty years, mountaintop removal, which relies on huge machinery rather than a vast labor force, has gutted coal industry jobs instead of adding them, leaving thousands unemployed while doing greater damage to the environment around coal sites, negatively impacting other local industries like fishing, hunting and tourism.
But the people’s government hasn’t helped as unions and neighboring small businesses have been quashed by Big Coal and its monied access to lawmakers.
In failing to adequately enforce existing laws on environmental protection, the people’s government has largely looked away, given a pass, or watered down to the point of meaningless absurdity fines for Big Coal’s many violations. And to make life even easier for Big Coal and plutocrats in general, under the Bush II administration, new energy policy exempted hydrofracking and mountaintop removal from the Clean Water act.
This by a so-called people’s government? How were the people represented here? Why do free market Tea Partiers want to take that government back? Stay at home, folks, your work has been done for you!
We see the same thing in Big Industry after Big Industry.
Tea Partiers and #Occupiers are like oil and water
The worst thing about understanding the difference between Tea Partiers and #Occupiers is that the media, which has a kind of rigid binary way of viewing the world, can only see the Tea Party and the #Occupiers as an either/or, and that’s the story they tell. They say the Tea Party is addressing a too big government, while the #Occupiers are “only” targeting Wall Street.
Though there are many Big Business industries or entities deserving of the people’s ire for lobbying to gut laws, taking corporate welfare, and effectively ruling the nation via legislative puppets who they buy through unrestrained money in politics, the #Occupiers have simply targeted Wall Street as the clearest symbol of plutocracy in action.
This should not be taken to mean that, unlike the Tea Party, which focuses on an alleged socialist government, the #Occupy movement has no beef with government.
#Occupy does have a beef: Why aren’t you doing your damn job in Congress and on the Supreme Court? Why aren’t you acting to protect and defend the people’s interest —not only where laws and regulations have been set up to ensure the public health and therefore individual human liberty, but also in representing through legislation and arbitration the interests of the people over the interests of non-human entities such as corporations, banks, and organizations?
Down with plutocracy
While Tea Partiers see Washington alone as the source of all political and economic evils, #Occupiers focus on both Wall Street and the government.
#Occupiers see little difference between business and government given the kinds of special favors corporations have won through rarefied, special, and privileged access to lawmakers. In response to that long-abetted cosiness, #Occupy wants government to prosecute malfeasance, reverse the corporate personhood ruling by the Supreme Court, pass a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people, enforce existing laws, and regulate an out-of-control financial industry that is more casino than it is a true investment in real resources.
And for themselves, the #Occupiers want something the original revolutionary Tea Partiers believed in: representation for their taxation. Representation in the form of a congressman or senator who is not a puppet of those same corporations, and representation that is accountable to the people, acting in the people’s interest by proxy where the atomized public cannot act in its own interest person by person.
To say this, of course, is met by the FOXified Tea Party and FOX itself with cries that the ordinary citizen is a slacker who just wants to be rescued by “Big Nanny Government.” Or that we want to lay at home eating bon bons while “Big Nanny Government” send us checks so we can sit at home and eat bon bons some more. Yet The Washington Post reports that 54% of Americans support the #Occupy movement and even Bill O’Reilly admitted that only 15% of #OWSers are unemployed.
Taking heat, seeing the light
The #Occupiers are taking heat for a lot of things, from the rag tag appearance of some, to the occasional bad behavior of others, to not yet forming organizations in pursuit of electoral politics, to being an alleged bunch of lazy ne’er do wells who, predictably, “hate America” and just “want a handout.”
The Tea Party has recently gone on the offensive saying these things and more. FOX hypes this daily, as does the conservative chorus of radio henchmen.
One is tempted to see the two positions as simply opposite sides of a coin. Sharing a love for America, each in their own way argues for the things they think will preserve and protect the best in the union. And both can vilify the other in the attempt to articulate its own vision.
But in the end the Tea Party is not, and cannot be a movement about people when it pushes so hard and so unmistakably for corporate personhood and an utterly unrestrained free market.
To call a vast corporate body or a multinational business with a legally driven mandate to produce profits at all costs equal to a human being is the first insult. To call money equal to speech, logically implying that more money naturally means more speech, is the second insult.Together they make a wholesale travesty of everything the United States of America has ever stood for both in law, and in its inspiring myths of authentic human freedom.
#Occupiers consider that a bloodless coup has taken place in the halls of US governance placing the market above the citizenry. The Tea Party is okay with that. They want to take that even higher, believing it alone can deliver the most good.
And the #Occupiers? They absolutely don’t. Their related concerns—about a clean energy economy, fighting global warming, creating green jobs, rebuilding smart growth infrastructure, and strengthening civic society overall requires that the corporation is brought back to the manageable level of project-driven corporate charters that are subordinate to the people’s government. They call it essential to human survival.
These two movements couldn’t be more different. And by arguing for a nation of people and of laws over utterly unrestrained markets, the #Occupiers have the higher moral ground on every score. History bears that out. As do our founding documents.
–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice