October 29, 2011

October 29, 2011 | Commentary on

"Occupy" Is No Tea Party

President Obama this week compared the Tea Party to the Occupy Wall Street protests, telling ABC News’ Jake Tapper, “in some ways they’re not that different.” We beg to differ. The Tea Party and the protestors are almost exact opposites.

We understand that the President is in a dilemma. He sympathizes with the protesters because many if not most of their goals are also Mr. Obama’s. He thus wants to associate the Occupiers with the Tea Party, a movement that has resonated with the American people.

But there’s the rub. Barack Obama identifies with the Occupiers because, as pollster Doug Schoen put it this week, they reflect “values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people … and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies.”

That’s not the Tea Party. That’s the opposite.

It is hard to generalize about the Tea Party. One of its major strengths, however, is that it is a mass movement that eschews central control; it is propelled from the ground-up. Indeed, its structure reflects its philosophy of respect for the wisdom and freedom of the American people and their traditions.

Unlike the Occupiers, the Tea Party has a unifying set of principles. Those are articulated clearly in America’s founding document, the Constitution. It lays out a system for limited government, delegating specific powers to elected leaders and prohibiting them from exercising responsibilities beyond these enumerated powers.

The Tea Party’s heroes are therefore the Founding Fathers (as you may have noticed from the three-cornered hats some of the most colorful Tea Partiers wore). The Tea Party is all about the small-government, personal responsibility and conservative philosophies espoused by Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and Milton Friedman.

The Tea Party is not an anarchist, anti-government group. We agree with Barry Goldwater that “the legitimate functions of government are actually conducive to freedom. Maintaining internal order, keeping foreign foes at bay, administering justice, removing obstacles to the free interchange of goods-the exercise of these powers makes it possible for men to follow their chosen pursuits with maximum freedom.”

The Tea Party, lastly, reveres the values of this country, which are respect for the law and private property, freedom of expression, assembly and religion, self-government, self-sufficiency, hard work, and the belief that the family is the major institution in society, not the federal government. We know America’s success has stemmed directly from these values. It’s what sets America apart from all others.

The Occupiers want many things, and the vast majority of the ones we’ve heard would deviate America from its historic course. Their hero, by the look of their tee-shirts at least, seems to be more Che Guevara, a psychopathic killer, than Madison, Jefferson and Franklin.

Let’s analyze how the protesters’ demands would make our country less free and more dependent on an ever-growing government.

Heading this week’s “99 percent declaration” (and virtually all previous lists of grievances emanating from this group) is the demand for a ban on political contributions by individuals and political speech by associations and groups, including companies and unions.

This is no apple pie proposal. Such a change would leave us less free and show a woeful contempt for the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court rightly found in the Citizens United case, this is about the right to engage in free speech, particularly political speech, and the right to freely associate. The Court rejected the very idea that the government can decide who gets to speak, and ban some from speaking at all, particularly those doing their speaking through associations of members who share their beliefs. This is about one of the fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.

The Occupiers decry bailouts, but they seem to reject them only for companies and industries they don’t like. Their grab-bag of special interests looks like Mr. Obama’s, including a special exemption for any corporation that claims to be “green.” Meanwhile they want to give authoritarian powers to the Environmental Protection Agency “to shut down corporations, businesses or any entities that intentionally or recklessly damage the environment.”

The list of baddies is long, and recognizable: the pharmaceutical industry, “corporations engaged in perpetual war for profit,” the “fossil fuel industry.” Sound familiar?

And by the way, the Tea Party was repeatedly, and quite libelously, portrayed in the media as racist, unruly and rabble-like. Never was any proof of this shown. On the contrary, Tea Partiers brought their own trash bags and cleaned up for themselves after every protest, and then went home to their jobs and families. Has anyone seen the anti-Semitic signs and comments many of these protesters are making—the violence, arrests, park occupation, police car defecation and store vandalism?

We could go on, but we think our case is made. The Tea Party represents (and respects) America. The Occupiers may be well intended, but their demands would be very different from what the Founding Fathers gave us and would dramatically change America.

Any comparisons between the Tea Party which desires to liberate We the People from big government and the Wall Street Occupiers who want more government regulation is either misguided or made to intentionally confuse Americans.

Ms. Tucker is co-founder of the First Coast Tea Party and Dr. Feulner is President of The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

First appeared in RealClearPolitics