For instance, when those hotheads in tricorn hats were trying to get the government to borrow slightly less than 40 cents for every dollar Washington spends, the conventional wisdom among enlightened liberals, the Obama administration and the other usual suspects was that they were "extremists."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted said extremists as "heartless" for daring to suggest that the exploding federal debt might require cutting subsidies for "cowboy poets."
Meanwhile, the sock-headed spokesman for the protesters wants to "overthrow the government."
And yet, if you peruse NexisLexis, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone calling him or his more radical confreres "extremists."
You also won't hear them being called racists, even though the Occupy Wall Street movement is mostly white. Personally, I don't think racial composition of the "99 percenters" is relevant, but the fact that the tea partiers are mostly white has been cited time and again as evidence of nascent racism. After all, what other explanation could there be for a mass movement opposed to the first black president's policies? (Never mind that the most popular tea party politician these days is Herman Cain, who, in case you hadn't noticed, is black.)
The Wall Street protesters are opposed to bailouts for banks -- but it seems to be news to them that they, too, are opposing policies pushed by the first black president.
Another criticism of the tea parties has been that they are an "astroturf" organization funded by the nefarious Koch Brothers and other right-wing groups. And there's some truth to that. Conservative groups -- opposed to Wall Street bailouts, mind you -- did join the tea party cause after it was up and running.
We are now seeing the same thing with Big Labor and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. They're backing the protesters in ever larger numbers. But don't expect cries of astroturfing any time soon.
Why the double standard? The short answer is that what counts as the political center in this country still leans considerably to the left. These young, scruffy, utopian, urban protesters are what rebels are supposed to look and sound like.
The tea partiers, meanwhile, are scarier because they're effective and because they challenge the preconceived notions of what American protest is supposed to look like. I mean, what's with those tricorn hats for Pete's sake?
If only Thomas Paine wore a sock on his head.
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