Occupy the Tea Party’s Mind

Occupy the Tea Party’s Mind

A conservative conference shows the right is obsessed with Occupy Wall Street, and it’s making them nervous.


The schedule at the Defending the American Dream Summit, a conference of thousands at the Washington, DC, convention center on Friday and Saturday, said nothing about Occupy Wall Street. The event, organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a fiscally conservative activist organization, had a series of issue and skills-building panels, a few keynote speeches by conservative celebrities and a “Cut Spending Now Rally.”

But OWS was a phantom presence. Nearly every speaker mentioned the Occupy movement, invariably to vilify it. Conservative propagandists such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and web activist Andrew Breitbart tried to mock and dismiss the Occupy activists with bluster and bravado. They alternated between haughty derision and panicked fear-mongering. They all insisted that their side is winning and Occupy will be surely self-defeating. But their constant obsession with Occupy suggests they doth protest a bit too much.

The New Yorker reported last week that some Occupy Wall Street activists think the Tea Party is as legitimate a movement as their own, and one they should seek to work with. The feeling is not mutual.

The descriptions on Occupy Wall Street broke down into several, sometimes somewhat conflicting categories:

§ They are really mad at President Obama. “The community is organizing against the community organizer,” cracked Andrew Breitbart.

§ They were inspired by Obama and other Democrats, so anything they do can be blamed on Obama and his party. “They would not be organizing if they were not blessed by Nancy Pelosi and organized by Obama,” said Breitbart. “Occupy Wall Street is the direct result of Barack Obama’s relentless class warfare that he’s been practicing since he was a candidate,” said Rudy Giuliani. “I believe that Barack Obama owns the Occupy Wall Street movement. It would not have happened but for his class warfare. He praised it, supported it, agrees with it, sympathized with it. As it gets worse and worse it will be the millstone that takes his presidency down.”

§ They are a bunch of lazy hippies. “I’m happier than a hippie in Zuccotti Park on free hash brownie day,” joked Jonah Goldberg, who apparently moonlights as a Borscht Belt comedian. “How about you occupy a job?” Giuliani rhetorically asked the protesters. “How about working? I know that’s tough. Woodstock is more fun. How about proceeding with your education? Nah, they’d rather do Woodstock in Manhattan, which is what it’s turned into.”

(Giuliani must be unaware of the widely reported fact that many of the protesters hold a bachelor’s or even master’s degrees, and it is because they cannot find work to pay off their student loans that they are protesting.)

§ They are a bunch of violent criminals and sexual predators. “Your entire thought process is violent,” said radio and print pundit Tony Katz. “Occupy Oakland is using Molotov cocktails,” claimed Giuliani. Goldberg: “I wouldn’t let my daughter within ten miles of Zuccotti Park.”

§ They are just haters. “They possess a vehement hatred of free enterprise and capitalism,” said AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips. “[OWS] is based on anger and envy.”

§ They are a divisive manifestation of class warfare. “They openly call for socialism and disparage job creators,” asserted Phillips. “Their calling card is class warfare and unrestrained envy.” “Occupy Wall Street thinks you should give up your money to people who refuse to work,” said Katz. Giuliani: “And this is under President Obama, who promised to unite us.”

Breitbart, kicking off the rally on Saturday, said nothing about cutting spending but plenty about the Occupy movement. Indeed, he hit every anti-OWS talking point heard over the course of the conference. This makes sense since Breitbart is really an anti-liberal rather than a conservative. He started off lightly, calling them “the radical wing of the Democrat Party, with the silver ponytails to prove it.” But he soon turned angry, saying liberals are motivated by jealousy and envy, seeking to steal your money instead of their making their own. “I want my own Tea Party!” Breitbart whined in the heterosexist impersonation of an effeminate voice that every conservative adopts when imitating liberals. “And what did they create out of envy?” He bellowed. “A group of public masturbating violent freaks!”

“They’re freaks!” Breitbart kept repeating. “Seven hundred people getting arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s a lot,” said Breitbart, as if it wasn’t possible the NYPD arrested more people than they needed to. Breitbart went on to throw out shocking, slanderous assertions about Occupy Wall Street. “These are international socialist groups, these are international communist groups, pro-jihad, pro-Palestinian groups who would not participate unless Jews were on the docket.” (It’s not clear what this last assertion even means, but the point, that OWS is a bunch of anti-Semites, is a well-established conservative meme.) Breitbart even asserted that “the Nazi party and David Duke,” are part of the movement.

But Breitbart was sure to end on a positive note, saying, “There are more of you than there are of them.” Radio host Mark Levin attempted to convey the same confidence, saying, “We’re here to occupy the White House, to occupy the Senate, to occupy the House of Representatives and no band of miscreants and malcontents is going to stop us.” Levin, Breitbart et al might have been trying to convince themselves as much as the crowd. If they really weren’t worried that Occupy Wall Street would move the public debate leftward, they would just ignore it.

I stopped by McPherson Square Friday night, a one-square block park downtown where Occupy DC has set up its tent city. I asked if they knew anything about AFP. “We’ve got people protesting there right now,” the young men hanging out there told me. They were well acquainted with the Koch brothers’ far right agenda, and they do not approve. But what about those Occupiers in New York who think they share concerns with the Tea Party? The Occupy DC folks make a distinction between the original grassroots Tea Party activists—regular people who were enraged by the corporate bailouts of 2008—and the corporate-funded right-wing organizations like AFP that have since co-opted them.

Unfortunately, I missed the Occupy protest outside the Convention Center that night, but apparently it turned ugly. The conservatives say they were trapped inside the Convention Center as the Occupiers massed outside trying to get in and the police tried to keep the two groups separate.

So it’s probably safe to assume that no populist coalition between OWS and the Tea Party is going to develop. That’s as it should be, since they don’t really have much in common.

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