- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

They’re both populist, grass-roots, anti-Washington movements, determined to challenge conventional wisdom and the powers that be. But for veterans of the 2-year-old tea party movement, the parallels to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement now occupying the media spotlight end right there.

Tea party leaders are openly rejecting attempts to liken the Occupy Wall Street protest to their movement, saying that the two groups are heading in opposite directions.

While tea partyers say they yearn for the nation to return to its founding principles, Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest such groups in the nation, said the Occupy protesters in New York, Washington and other cities across the country “severely dislike our country’s founding principles.”

“We’re a country founded, from an economic system point of view, on free-market capitalism,” Mr. Meckler said. “These folks are intensely offended by free-market capitalism.”

Judson Phillips, outspoken leader of Tea Party Nation, agreed, accusing the “mainstream media” of being “in the tank for the Occupy Wall Street crowd” and spinning the fledgling leftist protests in a positive light.

“The left has been dreaming of its own version of the tea party for the last 2½ years,” Mr. Phillips said. “If America was given a true picture of the [Occupy Wall Street] crowd, support for it would fade faster than the Philadelphia Eagles’ chances for the Super Bowl.”

But Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express, said the two groups do have one thing in common: Both are strongly against corporate welfare and the bailout of the banks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

“However, we believe the answer is smaller and less government,” Ms. Kremer said. “They want more government, [more] socialism/communism.”

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are railing against what they see as rampant corporate greed and social inequality. And they’ve garnered increasing national attention in recent days, leaving Democrats and Republicans to wrestle over the merits and staying power of the movement, which has spread from New York to other cities, including Washington.

In general, Democrats and Democrat-supporting forces such as organized labor have embraced the movement’s message, while Republicans reject it.

Some of the demonstrators at Washington’s Freedom Plaza on Monday said they saw at least some parallels between the populist surges from the right and left wings of the political spectrum.

“There is always overlap because there are things people all agree on,” said David Swanson, 41, Charlottesville, an organizer of the October 2011 protest.

The tea party is “not under the umbrella of the Republican Party, [but] it is pushing the government in a direction they want.” Similarly, Occupy Washington is “outside the Democratic Party and we’re pushing” in a direction the movement wants, Mr. Swanson said.

Julie MacGregor, of Baltimore, a disabled activist who was rallying Monday for the liberal group Code Pink, said she could also understand the comparisons to the tea party movement, because of the general unhappiness with the leadership in Washington.

“The government continues to take action that a large majority of Americans doesn’t want,” she said.

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, who is surging in the polls, has perhaps been the toughest critic of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon in recent days, railing against it in interviews and speeches and rejecting any parallel between the tea party uprising and the Occupy movement.

The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO has said it is “anti-American” to get angry at another person’s financial success. Occupy Wall Street participants are directing their frustration at the wrong target, he said.

Speaking Friday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Mr. Cain said the protesters should aim their criticism at the Obama administration for supporting the $814 billion economic-stimulus package and pursuing a $447 billion jobs bill.

“Wall Street didn’t write those failed policies.” he said. “Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars. Wall Street isn’t asking to spend another $450 billion. You can demonstrate all you want to on Wall Street. The problem is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!”

Mr. Meckler said Mr. Cain’s comments have been “dead-on,” while Mr. Phillips said it is smart politics.

“He can go after them with a tremendous upside and almost no downside,” Mr. Phillips said. “His attacks play well to a conservative base, and when he is telling them no one owes you a job, if you are not rich, it is because you are not doing what you have to do to get rich, that resonates even with independents and moderates.”

Meredith Somers contributed to this report.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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