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Occupy Wall Street: A Left-wing Tea Party?
By Discover The Networks
November 2011

President Obama has stated that “in some ways” the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations are “not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party.” Vice President Joe Biden concurs that OWS and the Tea Party have “a lot in common,” in the sense that both “do not think the system is fair.” But analogies drawn between OWS and the Tea Party are largely without merit.

The Tea Party, for its part, conveys reverence for traditional American values, embracing unapologetically the principles articulated by America's founders: limited government, free enterprise, and individual rather than group rights.

By contrast, OWS advocates precisely the antithesis of those values: an ever-expanding, ever-more-intrusive centralized government; the socialist redistribution of wealth on a massive scale; and group rights (and group identification) rather than individual rights. The latter of these OWS values is expressed most clearly in the movement's ceaseless effort to foment class warfare between the despised “1%” and the noble “99%,” much as President Obama has done. Ultimately, OWS's unmistakable repudiation of America's founding principles explains why its protests feature so many instances of the American flag being trashed, desecrated, and turned upside down; why attendees at a Portland rally cheered a musical performance whose dominant refrain was “F*** the USA”; and why an OWS crowd in New York enthusiastically applauded a self-described Egyptian Communist who exhorted them to fight “capitalist domination” and paraphrased Karl Marx: “We have nothing to lose except our chains. Long live revolution.”

The two movements also differ dramatically in their styles of protest. Whereas arrests during Tea Party demonstrations were exceedingly rare events, at least 3,362 arrests were made during OWS's first seven weeks of activity.

If there is any commonality to be found between OWS and the Tea Party, it is that both movements have decried as unjust the federal bailouts of such entities as AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and the automobile industry. The Tea Partiers, for their part, argued that America's founding document, the Constitution, simply does not authorize government to bail out any entity at all, be it on Wall Street or Main Street. That principle alone—and not the fact that they themselves had not been offered the type of government largesse that the big banks had received—was the reason for their objection. As the Heritage Foundation observes: “Far from the 99 percent waging class warfare against the 1 percent, the Tea Party wanted the same rules for 100 percent of Americans.”

OWS's passionate opposition to the bailouts, by contrast, has nothing to do with the Constitution. While the Occupiers condemn the federal funds that were given to companies and industries they despise, their constellation of grievances focuses overwhelmingly on the fact that their own pet causes were not similarly showered with government money—e.g., a taxpayer bailout of delinquent student loans and home mortgages, the public financing of political campaigns, and the creation of a single-payer healthcare structure.

In the final analysis, the Tea Party embraces free-market capitalism but opposes crony capitalism, where government provides a select group of corporations or industries with subsidies and special privileges that disrupt the natural workings of a marketplace that rewards innovation, efficiency, quality, and the ability to satisfy the needs and desires of the public. Crony capitalism artificially keeps certain select beneficiaries afloat—on the theory that they are “too big to fail”—even if they engage in wasteful, irresponsible practices and are inattentive to the needs of consumers.

OWS likewise denounces this unholy alliance between government and business, but only where the beneficiaries are corporations and industries which the protesters loathe. Indeed, while OWS decries the bailouts that were given to Bank of America and General Motors, it remains silent vis à vis such companies as Solyndra, the California-based, Obama-connected solar-panel manufacturer that received $535 million in federal loans despite the fact it was fiscally insolvent; in OWS's calculus, the nobility of such “green” ventures, which are aligned with the movement's priorities, renders them above reproach. As economist Walter E. Williams puts it: “The [OWS] protesters don't want to end crony capitalism, with its handouts and government favoritism; they want to participate in it.” Meanwhile, they denounce America's traditional corporate structure as a den of iniquity and “obscene” profits, even though historically, corporate profits have ranged between 5 and 8 cents per dollar, while corporate wages have comprised between 50 and 60 cents of each dollar.

OWS justifies its contempt for free-market capitalism on the premise that America's current economic crisis was created by the inherent failings of a reckless, greedy, and under-regulated private sector. But this premise is false on its face. As American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Peter Wallison explains, the protesters’ anger should instead be directed at “those who developed and supported the federal government’s housing policies which were responsible for the financial crisis.” Beginning in 1992, the government required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both government-sponsored enterprises, to direct 30% of their mortgage financing to low-income borrowers. The Clinton administration raised the quota to 50% by 2000, and the Bush administration subsequently hiked it to 55% by 2007. Such mandates required Fannie and Freddie to significantly water down their underwriting standards. Further, as a result of rules adopted in 1995 under the Community Reinvestment Act, regulated banks as well as savings-and-loan associations were required to meet certain quotas for loans to borrowers who, by traditional standards, were undercapitalized. As of 2008, fully half of all mortgages in the U.S. were either “subprime or otherwise weak,” says Wallison. Of these, more than 70% were held or guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie, or some other government agency or government-regulated institution—and not by the private lending industry. Ultimately, of course, the housing market collapsed under the weight of these millions of risky loans, and the economy went into a tailspin. Writes Wallison:

“The narrative that came out of these events—largely propagated by government officials and accepted by a credulous media—was that the private sector's greed and risk-taking caused the financial crisis and the government's policies were not responsible. This narrative stimulated the punitive Dodd-Frank Act—fittingly named after Congress's two key supporters of the government's destructive housing policies. It also gave us the occupiers of Wall Street.”

At its heart, OWS is a movement driven and sustained by leftists, socialists, and anarchists who have despised capitalism for a very long time. When America suffered its economic downturn, they instantly saw an opportunity to advance their own agendas by exploiting the inevitable handmaidens of crisis—panic and despair. Now, they calculated, was the time to present socialism as an attractive alternative to the fatally flawed system of the past. Thus was OWS conceived. Its admitted objectives are “world revolution” and wholesale economic transformation of the capitalist system. Its self-serving condemnations of insatiable “greed” are nothing more than window dressing, carefully crafted in accord with Saul Alinsky's powerful admonition that all political crusades must “invok[e] ‘moral principles’ to cover naked self-interest.”

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