The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street remind me a little of those side-by-side cartoons I used to love to examine in the Sunday newspaper. You know the ones. At first glance, the juxtaposed pictures look identical, but, the longer you study ’em, the more strangely dissimilar they become. In one, a bird lacks a wing. In the other, a top hat lacks a buckle. By the time you’ve racked up 10 differences, you’ve solved the puzzle and it’s time to move on to “Peanuts.”
When it comes to The Tea Party and OWS, though, the more the surface differences become obvious, the more the transparent truth of what underlies those differences becomes obscured. It becomes easy to focus on the way the groups look and act differently — and harder to remember the way the groups think differently. For example, I’ve become a little obsessed lately with tracking the violence of the Occupy movement. In case you, too, are counting, we’re up to at least 360 incidents of violence, vandalism and otherwise inappropriate behavior among Occupiers. Outrageous.
Make no mistake: The misbehavior of the Occupy protesters matters and says something important about their fundamental principles — namely, that they have no very deep respect for property rights. And, in the battle of ideas, the unappealing actions of the Occupiers certainly help to discredit progressive concepts in the subconscious of observers.
But, in the end, it’s crucial to remember that Tea Party protests and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are just outward and modern manifestations of a more-than-a-century-old battle between classical liberalism and progressivism. Tea Partiers aren’t just trying to make a case for the Tea Party and Occupiers aren’t just trying to make a case for OWS; they’re trying to make a case for the ideas that formed them into these movements in the first place. Remembering those ideas makes the choice of which side’s narrative to believe even easier. For that, this video based on the work of NYU law professor Richard Epstein is particularly helpful: