Separated at birth: Tea Party and populism?

A protester holds up a sign at an Occupy Miami protest in 2011

Yesterday BBC Executive Producer Dick Meyer wrote a post-election wrap-up for this blog, pointing out that the Tea Party is still alive and kicking as a force in American politics.

Conventional wisdom, he wrote, says that the defeat of hard-core conservative Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli in his bid to become governor is a sign that the US is moving to the left, at least a bit.

It also seems to show that the US is rejecting the sort of politics that the Tea Party embraces.

Mr Cuccinelli lost by a smaller margin than expected, however. And - as Dick wrote - last week's results hardly constituted a "revolution in the voting booths" that would break the stranglehold that grassroots conservatives have on today's Republican Party.

Image caption The defeat of Kenneth Cuccinelli in Virginia was a loss for conservatives

In the comment section for the article, one reader noted that when we talk about the Tea Party, and whether it will endure, we need to consider the movement's roots.

We also need to consider what it has in common with the populist Occupy Wall Street movement in the left.

No_Main_Party_Vote wrote:

People forget that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street were initially opposed to the same thing: bailing out the banks. But these movements have been hijacked by the mainstream and used for political purpose, which had nothing to do with their initial objectives.

I asked Dick about this comment, and here is his reply:

Image caption The populist views of Pat Buchanan resonate with some liberals

This raises one of the really interesting questions in politics today: is there more common but well-disguised kinship between very liberal and very conservative populism than people think? Is there a thread between the so-called New Populism of Bill de Blasio and Rand Paul?

My guess is where there is common ground, it is around a shared dislike of elites - cultural, financial and political - but especially cultural. Hippies and religious fundamentalists both home-school kids to keep them away from what they see as toxic, materialistic and crass values, for example.

To conservatives, big government is the enemy; to liberals, big business. Everyone dislikes Hollywood, big media and lawyers.

Obviously, there are more differences than similarities in the strains of American disenchanted populism. But what about the common ground?

Image caption Is there a thread between Bill de Blasio, shown above, and Rand Paul?

I'd add that Tea Party conservatives also have a healthy dislike for big business - witness their criticisms of the car and financial industry bailouts of 2008-09. Meanwhile, liberals have a similar fear of big government when it comes to National Security Agency surveillance and civil liberties infringements.

I'm reminded of the reporter from the liberal Village Voice newspaper who approached arch-conservative Pat Buchanan during his 1996 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination:

"I've been waiting my whole life for someone running for president to talk about the Fortune 500 as the enemy," the correspondent said. "And when I finally get my wish, it turns out to be you."