During its rise in 2009-2010, the nature of the Tea Party was somewhat contested, with many commentators calling it a spontaneous uprising or movement of ordinary people, and others (especially on the left) calling it an “astro turf” movement orchestrated and organized by the networks of right-wing PACs and media.
This debate misses the fascinating part of the Tea Party’s rise: neither wholly organic nor wholly manufactured, it emerged as a golf course, growing naturally from seeds that had been relentlessly and carefully sown over the dacades prior.
Witness the amazing ideological uniformity in the Tea Party which revealed itself as the original hype diminished. After a time, it was clear that this “organic” affinity group was the right-wing of the Republican party. How did this intellectally homogeneous affinity group arise? By exposing themselves to the same media, talk radio and Fox News, these emotionally similar people gained an intellectual common ground that naturally led to effective political organization.
Maybe this political organization is only natural for right-wing types who take for granted the need of individuals to subsume their particularities in the group consensus. But looking at the Occupy movement, I see a similar tendency.
The difference is that the tendency in the Occupy movement was, rather than to unite around a political program, to unite around the need to be non-excusionary and non-hierarchical. The result is a “political” movement with no objective and no effectiveness.
Decades and decades of “theory” has left the Left with no program, aside from not leaving anyone out. This is the intellectual uniformity that our functional equivalent of AM radio, the Academy, has achieved.
Economic crises like 2008 come along once every few decades, and they often represent a chaning of the guard in policymaking. The Great Depression brought the rise of the New Deal coalition, and the instability of the 1970’s restored the money elite to policymaking power, a change ratified in the election of Ronald Reagan. In this historical context, then, the Occupy movement and the progress of the left since the financial crisis has been a stunning failure.
The Left has squandered a once-in-50-years opportunity because its intellectual leaders have made its highest priority not hurting anyone’s feelings.