The Tea Party Takes on Occupy Wall Street

By running through the same script liberals used when tea partiers started rallying

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The Tea Party does not appreciate all these comparisons to Occupy Wall Street. "They’re not the Tea Party," Ned Ryun, head of the tea partying group American Majority, told Politico's Robin Bravender and Kenneth P. Vogel. The Tea Party Express is urging supporters to "stand up to these comparisons and stand up for our principles." But the conservative activists' reaction to the liberal ones is identical to the liberal reaction to the Tea Party in 2009: make fun of pictures of unemployed angry buffoons and search for proof that it's all some inauthentic stunt financed by some massive organization.

In 2009, liberal blogs delighted in every misspelled and racist Tea Party sign -- or, the holy grail, a misspelled racist sign. Now conservatives are gleefully passing around photos of dirty or stupid Occupy Wall Street protesters -- a favorite says it shows a protester trying to poop on a police car -- while wearing Nikes! The Tea Party Express' fundraising email compares photos of calm Tea Party protesters waving flags to wild Wall Street protesters wearing clown makeup and fighting cops. "Can you tell the difference?' Michelle Malkin posted video of protesters in Washington, D.C., saying, "For your lunchtime viewing entertainment, a motley bunch of anti-war/Stop the Machine/Code Pinko/Medea Benjamin/99 percenters are screaming things in the Hart Senate Office Building and hoping to get arrested." Hot Air posted video of a protester who wants his college tuition paid for, and wondered:
How representative is our inarticulate proletarian hero here of the rest of the commune in Zuccotti Park? On the one hand, he’s mercifully dogma-free. No impromptu lectures on socialist theory or digressions about the Jews who control the banks; he just wants some money, so can you give him some money, please? On the other hand, “give me some money” is socialist theory, basically. He’s an ideologue waiting to happen, he’s just not quite there yet.
And Hot Air asks the tougher question that many conservative activists are wondering: "Who exactly is planning its marches? Grassroots members or someone else?" Just as liberals painted Tea Partiers as mindless robots backed by corporate interests -- the Koch brothers in particular -- conservatives are speculating that Occupy Wall Street is an example of astroturfing. Glenn Beck's The Blaze says Occupy Wall Street "is creating jobs ... astroturf jobs." Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism pointed to a call by Adbusters for an American Tahrir Square. "People from the grassroots?  This smells more like Astroturf to me."
The speculation about who might be behind the protests is now trickling in mainstream media, just as similar speculation did with the Tea Party. One protest organizer told us they were asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter if they were being paid by labor unions. Reuters' Mark Egan and Michelle Nichols on Thursday found rather tenuous connections to a well-known donor to liberal causes: "Anti-Wall Street protesters say the rich are getting richer while average Americans suffer, but the group that started it all may have benefited indirectly from the largesse of one of the world's richest men." That would be George Soros, a billionaire investor and one of the right's biggest enemies, who denies a connection to the protests. They continue: "Reuters did find indirect financial links between Soros and Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada which started the protests with an inventive marketing campaign aimed at sparking an Arab Spring type uprising against Wall Street. Moreover, Soros and the protesters share some ideological ground." And what about that indirect link? Between 2007 and 2009, Soros donated $3.5 million to the Tides Center. The Tides Center directs donations to non-profit groups, gave Adbusters grants of $185,000 between 2001 and 2010. Not the strongest case, but that can't stop a meme:
Pressed further for his views on the movement and the protesters, Soros refused to be drawn in. But conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh summed up the speculation when he told his listeners last week, 'George Soros money is behind this.'
At least one tea partier, Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, sees the irony of all this political melodrama side-switching. He tells Politico, "For a long time, the left called us Astroturf and it was demonstrably untrue, so I don’t want to turn around and try to throw the same attack. I would much prefer to have the fight be over what we stand for." But on that score the two groups are pretty close, with the main message being exasperation with bank bailouts. Maybe that's why Republican candidates are being a little nicer to Occupy Wall Street, as ABC News reports. And one other data point: a new Time poll shows that 54 percent of Americans have a very or somewhat favorable view of the Wall Street protesters. The Tea Party, meanwhile, gets favorable ratings from just 27 percent of Americans.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.