Dean Baker
Debate Club (U.S. News & World Report), October 19, 2011

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Many people have forgotten that the Tea Party movement had its origins in the anti-TARP protests in the fall of 2008. Millions of people across the country were outraged that the government was going to loan hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks that had brought themselves and the country to the brink of ruin through their own greed and incompetence. Just as these people feared, the bailouts saved the banks, leaving their high-flying executives largely unharmed, but did little to get the economy back on its feet.

This led to enormous anger that was harnessed by right-wing politicians to go after the government, but the sentiment was always misdirected. While the right wingers want the Tea Partyers to support their efforts to roll back government social programs, large majorities of Tea Partyers actually support key programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even unemployment benefits. If these programs are protected, and the military budget is not cut (the right wingers oppose military cuts), there is not much left in terms of "government waste" for the Tea Partyers to attack. This leaves an incoherent movement.

The Occupy Wall Street crew picks up on the Tea Party anger directed at the use of the government to make the rich even richer. While it does not have a coherent program or list of demands at this point, the vast majority of the Occupiers understand that there is something seriously wrong in this country. The government is pursuing policies that are making those at the top very rich, while offering little for the vast majority of the population. Political figures will attempt to impose an agenda on the Occupiers just as they did the Tea Partyers, but at least there is in principle an agenda that fits their demands. The Tea Partyers were supposed to be outraged over government spending, but the vast majority of the spending goes to programs that the Tea Partyers strongly support. There is no possible program there.

But, it is easy to design programs that reverse the upward redistribution of income, for example a financial speculation tax on Wall Street or breaking up the big banks. Everyone can understand these proposals. They are good policy and also likely to be great politics, once we get around the stranglehold of Wall Street financial contributions.