If there’s one thing that united Occupy Wall Street with the Tea Party movement from the very beginning, it’s a virulent aversion to being compared to each other.
The Tea Partiers started sharpening their knives before the Occupation even began. Two weeks before last year’s launch Tea Partisan blogger Bob Ellis wrote a post entitled “Socialists Plan to Rage Against Freedom on Constitution Day” – all but daring the lamestream punditry to compare the “infantile” plans of “spoiled children” to “throw tantrums” and “thumb their nose at the American way of life” to the beloved movement that “sprang up from nothing a little more than two years ago in the face of a Marxist president and Marxist congress.”
In reality, of course, no political movement springs “from nothing.” Indeed, both of them have roots in the same man. Fifty-five years earlier that fall, the Tea Party movement’s direct ancestors met in Indianapolis to launch their first bid to rally citizens against the “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy” occupying the White House, Dwight Eisenhower. But when their beloved anti-communist Barry Goldwater was buried in the 1964 presidential election, the Republican Party moved swiftly to officially renounce the “radical organizations” that had sullied its public image. Then the most radical of the right-wing radicals, Goldwater’s beloved speechwriter Karl Hess, moved into a houseboat, renounced politics altogether and dedicated the rest of his life to peacefully protesting the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the new aristocracy he dubbed “the one percent.”
You read that right: The first guy to call the 99 percent to arms was the author of a speech that claimed: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Goldwater had fondly referred to Hess as “my Shakespeare.”
Hess had also worked as a professional union buster, an informant to Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover; a regular contributor to the Wall Street-based red-baiting newspaper Counterattack, and an amateur arms trafficker who sent contraband napalm to the plotters of a Bacardi-backed coup attempt against Cuba’s then-dictator Fulgencio Batista. He’d also been a founding editor of the National Review and a full-time ghostwriter for the famous Texas oil oligarch and John Birch Society financier H.L. Hunt.
But then something changed. He could no longer reconcile the radical, rugged individualist rhetoric of the right with what he increasingly saw as its slavish reality, so he went with the rhetoric. He bought a motorcycle, then a houseboat. He stopped paying taxes; went to trade school so he could learn a skill he could barter for food and clothes and marijuana; wrote for underground newspapers and Playboy and the muckraking New Left magazine Ramparts; founded a semi-survivalist neighborhood agricultural co-op in Washington, D.C., and ultimately refined his lifelong distrust of big government into a more considered opposition to bigness generally. Big institutions were inherently hostile to democracy, he explained in his 1975 memoir-manifesto Dear America, because they’d been created by and for the tiny minority of elites who already owned a de facto controlling stake of the nation’s political and economic power:
1.6 percent of the adult population owns 82 percent of all stock, and thus actually owns American business and industry. In a very real sense, that tiny 1 percent of the population faces the other 99 percent across a barrier of very real self-interest. That tiny 1 percent has been accumulating more as the years go on, not less. The key to that accumulation is assuring that the people who make up the other 99 percent are sharply restricted in what power and privilege they accumulate.