By the time activists latched on to a 2009 rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, who raised the idea of a modern-day tea party, the field had been prepared. The American right knew who its enemy was, and conservative politicians, donors, and media – notably Fox News – lavished attention and support on tea party rallies to help the movement grow.
To be sure, the left has its own parallel groups and backers. But their clout has been diminishing, argues Mr. Kazin. Private-sector labor unions have been in steady decline, he notes, and other liberal groups have changed so they cater more to middle-class social causes (the environment, same-sex marriage) than to the economic concerns of ordinary workers.
Occupy Wall Street could become a remedy to that for the left. The Wall Street protests in part express the frustration of a “lost generation” of young Americans facing high student-loan debts and grim job prospects. But they have rallied support from liberal groups ranging from labor unions to MoveOn.org, which added a “virtual march on Wall Street” to its website on Oct. 5. Film celebrities like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have lent their voices.