As the fallout from Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) stunning primary loss continues to settle, one of the many entrenched interests feeling suddenly insecure about their position in the American hierarchy is big business. For some, like the aviation giant Boeing, Cantor was a reliable friend. With his loss, that company’s prospects, along with its share price, have crumpled.
“Mr. Cantor’s loss is much more than just symbolism,” the Times reported on Saturday. “He has been one of Wall Street’s most reliable benefactors in Congress. And Mr. Brat used that fact to deride the majority leader as someone who has rigged the financial system.”
What has concerned many businesses with a stake in federal policy is a growing anger on the right from people who can sound more Occupy Wall Street than Tea Party.
The Times quotes Potomac Research Group strategist Gregory R. Valliere who said that it is not unreasonable to make a comparison between tea party conservatives and “Elizabeth Warren liberals” in terms of the rising tide of economic populism. He declined, however, to make that direct comparison.
If businesses are truly sensing that an element of Occupy’s disaffected populism has begun to characterize the tea party’s rhetoric, they have only now started listening. Among the organizing principles which drew grassroots conservatives to the tea party movement in the first place was its willingness to attack Republicans as well as Democrats who facilitate what they view as crony capitalism. In the sense that both groups are suspicious of celebrated practices in Washington which enrich the well-connected and expand the state, but which never seem to directly or even indirectly benefit average Americans, Occupy and the tea party do share a common ideological bond.
But that’s about where the similarities end. It is difficult to believe that business and financial interests see the likely ascension of an economics professor from Virginia with an affinity for laissez-faire markets to the House of Representatives represents some horrible portent. The tea party seeks, and has always sought, to reduce the distortion in markets created by the collusion between politicians and moneyed interests. As an extension of the perennial squabble between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian philosophies, the tea party’s rise to become a functional wing of the GOP is a most uniquely American political expression. Occupy, meanwhile, would have liked nothing more than to lead the American financial class to the gallows. There is nothing in the American political tradition which serves as a precedent for that virulent form of populism.
The difference may be that few Americans of influence ever took Occupy that seriously. When, in 2011, Occupy encampments were sprouting up across the country and a variety of leading Democrats in the majority were doing their best Bane impression, financial professionals did not seem especially concerned.
“[There’s] two things they generically complain about I agree with,” J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in March of 2012 when asked about the Occupy movement. “The average American [can] look at the institutions of America and [say] they’ve let me down: these are Washington and Wall Street.”
When business interests did express genuine concern over the Occupy movement, it was because they believed they were in danger of being targeted for both physical and cyber-attacks by members of that seemingly anarchist movement.
“In connection with the continued economic uncertainty, groups such as Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous, have targeted the financial services industry as part of their protest against the perceived lax regulation of the financial sector and economic inequality,” read a 2011 10-Q filing from the CME Group, which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Does anyone really believe that tea partiers and their representatives are capable of, or even interested in, this manner of societal disruption?
The message of economic populism a winning one; it has been for some time. Growing dissatisfaction with the state of economic affairs, as growth languishes in the fifth year of a supposed recovery, is going to shape American politics on both sides of the aisle. It is, however, a stretch to believe that the business community is so distraught over Cantor’s loss that they would equate the mild populist correction imposed by the tea party with Occupy’s rebelliousness. The business community is probably aware of this particularity, though it seems to elude the Times.
For all its interest in internecine skirmishes, the philosophical foundations of the tea party were and remain largely constructive. Occupy, on the other hand, did not seem to be interested in building up much of anything. Much to the distress of The New York Times.