For weeks I’ve watched as the media has compared the recent “Occupy Wall Street” protests to the Tea Party rallies that began in early 2009. Those comparisons leave me scratching my head.
First, let’s dispense with the obvious: I’m a conservative Republican, and I have much more in common with Tea Party folks than I do the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
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To my mind, the Tea Party is a positive movement, one in which ordinary men and women have gotten involved to push for a return to some of the founding principles of our great nation – principles like small government, low taxes and free markets. These folks still believe that people can do a better job of caring for themselves than government can.
They want us to return to a system that encourages people to work and create their own destiny, not a system that stifles ambition by promoting permanent dependence on government handouts. They understand the benefit of limited regulation and low taxes, realizing this will let people keep more of their hard-earned money and permit the private sector to invest and create jobs.
Those in the Tea Party movement value the old-fashioned American ideals of self-sufficiency and hard work. And they understand the dangers of extreme overspending by government, leaving mountains of IOUs for our children and grandchildren to pay.
On the other hand, I don’t see much coherent focus of the Occupy Wall Street protests. One day it’s war, the next day it’s corporate greed, the next day it’s student loan balances, and the next it’s higher pay. According to a report in The New York Times, one woman who appeared to be recruiting a new protestor was overheard telling the recruit, “It doesn’t matter what you’re protesting. Just protest.”
Certainly, from what’s known of the Occupy Wall Street group, it’s an anti-free market movement. It’s the anti-Tea Party. While the Tea Party favors returning to our nation’s tried-and-true founding principles, the Occupy Wall Street protests favor rejecting free-enterprise and capitalism, seeking instead a more socialist-style system where government calls the shots and distributes resources. It’s the government’s job, they believe, to step in and correct disparities in income between the middle and upper classes.
They decry the “rich” for making profits … never mind that successful people usually make their profits through hard work. Let’s not forget that when the successful among us earn money, it often leads to further investment, which leads to job creation. And isn’t creating jobs, after all, one of the most pressing economic tasks we face today?
Sadly, the Occupiers’ solution to what they see as income disparity isn’t to pull up the middle class…it’s to penalize those people who, either through good fortune or hard work, have been successful. They ignore that if we raise taxes and limit success, we’ll stifle an important incentive for taking business risks, expanding, and creating jobs.
One thing that’s clear about their protest “movement” is that it’s not as spontaneous as organizers would have us believe. In truth, all signs point to the fact that various deep-pocketed left-leaning interests are orchestrating the protests, and according to numerous media reports people are being paid to participate in them. The claims of protesters that they represent 99 percent of us are silly given the large and growing number of Americans who want government to interfere less with our lives and pocketbooks.
It remains to be seen whether these protests become a potent force, as the Tea Party has become, or whether they fizzle out.
And it also remains to be seen whether the media and the political class ultimately treat these protests with the same derision and disdain they’ve shown for Tea Party rallies – or whether they’ve already decided to evaluate the Occupy Protesters using a more generous standard than they use on the Tea Partiers.
Richard Eckstrom, a CPA, is South Carolina’s comptroller.