Over the past few years, spontaneous and grassroots protest movements electrified the nation. Activists, worried about the expansion of government in the wake of the bailout, galvanized a movement of people that successfully elected the most conservative Republicans Congress has ever seen. The Tea Party made Glenn Beck a superstar, nearly sent the U.S. into default, and turned bipartisanship into a dirty word. Anger became a political virtue.
And then, the Occupiers appeared. Pundits dubbed Occupy Wall Street as the Tea Party’s progressive counterpart. For months, protesters across the country camped out in public parks to protest the bailout, Super PACs, and foreclosures. Despite the attention the Occupiers received, the movement provided a mouthpiece for discontent. The Occupiers succeeded mostly in drawing attention to the defects of our democracy and utterly failed at achieving legislative or electoral victories.
Even as both movements asserted their prominence in contemporary American politics, they have receded into the background during this election cycle. Why?
For the Tea Party, their obscurity in this election cycle reflects their success. The Republican Party has absorbed their intransigence and myopic devotion to shrinking government (Mitt Romney promised to remove subsidies for the Democrat’s sacred fowl, Big Bird). And though Tea Party activists are not thrilled with a Republican candidate who presided over the introduction of universal health care in Massachusetts, they will throw their support around Governor Romney.
The influence of the Occupiers can also be seen in Obama’s rhetoric on protecting Americans who play by the rules. Fairness has become a Democratic virtue. Even as both groups remain in the background, they both have profoundly shaped this year’s presidential election.