Tea Partiers, Wall Street Occupiers' ideas not new

Business Times - 01 Nov 2011

Tea Partiers, Wall Street Occupiers' ideas not new


THERE is a lot of uneasiness among members of the political establishment in Washington these days. The rise of the Tea Party movement on the political right may have provided a short-term electoral lift for the Republicans by energising grassroots activists and helping the party mount a successful mid-term election campaign against President Barack Obama and the Democrats last November.

But Republican leaders are now concerned that the anti-establishment message of the Tea Partiers has convinced many centrist independent voters that the party has been hijacked by right-wing ideological fanatics. Republican leaders worry the Tea Partiers among presidential primary voters will wreck the chances of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the most moderate and electable candidate, of winning the party's nomination.

A similar kind of ambivalence has characterised the attitude of many Democratic officials and lawmakers towards the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement on the political left. The protests against economic inequality and for using government to promote social justice seem to provide an effective political counter-balance to the influence of the anti-government Tea Partiers. The Occupiers' message is more in line with the general policy direction of the Obama Administration.

But there are also some worries in the White House and among congressional Democrats that the growing confrontations with the police and the more radical rhetoric espoused by some Occupiers could end-up producing a political backlash among the same centrist and independent voters that Democrats need to win over in order to gain the electoral upper-end in the presidential and congressional races next November.

While radicals and fanatics in both movements tend to gain a lot of media attention - whether it is a Tea Partier using racial epitaphs on President Obama or an Occupier trying to smash a police car - the most remarkable thing when trying to deconstruct their respective ideological messages is that neither of these movements has been able to articulate any new ideas on how to resolve America's current economic and social problems.

To put it in simple terms, the Tea Party seems to be promoting nothing more than the most recent version of Reaganism - the ideological agenda that was unveiled by former Republican president Ronald Reagan and his allies in the conservative movement in the 1970s and which called for reducing the control of government over the economy, deregulation and lower taxes and the unleashing the power of the free markets.

Reagan as well as his ideological ally in Britain, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, proved to be successful in fulfilling some of those ambitious ideological goals, by reducing the income-tax rate and loosening a few government regulations. But the size of the federal government has continued to grow since then as Reagan's ideological descendants - for example, the Republican heading the Contract-With-America movement in the 1990s - tried to complete the job, and with only limited success.

In a way, while blaming the policies of the federal government for the recent financial crisis, what the Tea Partiers propose is that Republicans and conservatives take advantage of the fiscal insolvency of the government in order to bring the Reagan Revolution to its victorious conclusion by abolishing most of the federal social-economic programmes. At the same time, notwithstanding their image as an incarnation of the radical student movement of the 1960s, the ideological agenda being advanced by the Occupiers is more conservative than revolutionary, in a sense that they want to preserve - and strengthen - the foundations of the Welfare State president Franklin D Roosevelt had built in the 1930s through his New Deal policies.

So if the Tea Partiers are fans of the Reagan Revolution, the Occupiers should be regarded as New Deal buffs. Indeed, much of what the two sides are promoting is a form of ideological nostalgia - abolish government and cut taxes on the right; preserve the role of the government and increase taxes on the rich on the left - with some push for 'change'. Occupiers propose a Glass Steagall II and Tea Partiers put forward a plan for 'flat tax'.

It is true that the two movements have played an important role in setting the debate in Washington and around the country with the Tea Partiers drawing attention to rising government spending and the Occupiers raising the issue of growing income equality. But neither of the two has come up with a new set of innovative ideas that take into consideration the changing realities at home and abroad.

Instead they continue to make a lot of noise by recycling old ideas and intensifying the partisan split in Washington; and that only leads to more political stalemate and ensures that no change will take place anytime soon.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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