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Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements hurt independents

By Matt Kindy     11/1/11 7:00pm

In the midst of the past four years of political turmoil and partisan politics, we all have witnessed the rise of two particular movements that, while initially offering populist messages, have grotesquely transformed into influential and divisive partisan movements, corrupted by our two-party system just as every other political movement of recent times. What I'm referring to, of course, are the Tea Party and Occupy movements.

The Tea Party initially was a response to the bank bailouts of 2008-2009. The people of the Tea Party wanted our massive federal government to stop spending so much money and balance the budget. They wanted a strict interpretation of the Constitution. They wanted lower taxes. This later ended up being primarily about lower taxes, in many cases seemingly under the guise of following the Constitution (although it appears rare that the true Tea Party figureheads, e.g., Michele Bachmann, have any real idea of how to interpret such a document). The main rationale for this change was that the Republican Party co-opted the Tea Party movement, mainstreaming its populist message to fit large government designs.

So it shouldn't have been any surprise that when the Occupy movement first arrived on Wall Street, the Democratic Party wanted its own piece of the populist pie. Although initially promoting accountability on Wall Street for the bailouts and bonuses from TARP like the Tea Party, the movement was not only rapidly consumed by (primarily) anti-capitalists, but supported hastily by Democratic leaders.

It should be clear that the intent of the Democratic Party is the same as that of the GOP of '09: the populist movement is, well, popular. The Republican base was energized by the assimilation of the Tea Party; the Democrats' reason similarly that co-opting (or appearing to attempt to co-opt) the Occupy movement is a calculated political move to bring populists to the party and energize the base for Obama's re-election campaign and beyond.

Nice play, Democrats. The only problem with this whole idea is the whole idea. Politically, it's suicidal. The Republican Party has already been burned by the Tea Party in a number of different ways; I wouldn't expect any differently from Occupy. The whole concept is basically this flawed idea that extremism is countered best by … extremism! So when the primaries necessarily occur in 2016 or 2020 for both parties, they're going to have the problem of dealing with this "energized" base that is so extreme it threatens to throw the respective party off the cliff.

The coveted independent vote is the one that seems to be ignored here. Independents are being increasingly forced to choose between the perceived lesser of two evils, especially as the contenders drift further and further apart on the political spectrum. It's almost enough to make one worry that one day we'll have a fascist Republican running against a communist Democrat (I really don't anticipate that problem but the principle is there!)

Independents are unlikely to get their real world concerns met, as parties must bow further and further to ideological pressures and political goals. This means that politics as usual will become meaningless to the common American who only wants to make a living for him or herself.

This problem I largely perceive to be a direct result of the "benevolent" two-party system. By offering two diametrically-opposed parties that become orders of magnitude further apart each election cycle, there is no compromise. A completely viable solution would be to bring the Libertarian Party into prominence, but I won't hold my breath. Right now, the package problem exists: take social and economic conservatism, take social and economic liberalism, or just hope that the divisive elements within the two parties can stay quiet long enough to accept a moderate candidate to represent them.

This country isn't about having a government that you hate the least; it's about voting for a candidate that has most of your interests at heart. With so many voters being increasingly alienated from the two parties, is it possible that we could see the two-party system fall apart?

Matt Kindy is a Baker College sophomore.

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