An iron law of politics is that parties out of power are more unified than parties in power. That’s because when you control the government, members of the ruling coalition squabble over who gets what. When you don’t control government, everyone can at least agree that the top priority is to win back control.
A corollary to that law is that it’s ideologically empowering to be out of power. When you don’t have responsibility for anything, you can afford the luxury of purity.
The tea parties had an easy time of it in 2009 because there was no one in power to defend and no compromises required. If the financial crisis had hit in 2006, the emergence of anything like the tea party would have torn the GOP apart. But in 2009, with Bush gone, Democrats running the show, and Obama championing a program that made George W. Bush look like Calvin Coolidge (praise be upon him), there was nothing holding back the tea parties.
For Occupy Wall Street to enjoy similar freedom, it can’t be hobbled by having to defend the most powerful and important politician in America. You can’t declare war with the status quo and support the chief author of the status quo at the same time. Similarly, you can’t run for re-election and be joined at the hip with fringe revolutionaries.
If it were possible to buy stock in Occupy Wall Street, shareholders would be doing everything they could for a Republican victory in 2012. Only then will you see Democratic leaders and Immortal Technique fans alike, locked arm in arm, in united opposition to the Powers that Be.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2011, Tribune Media Services, Inc.