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Occupy Wall Street: All bite, no apple

POSTED October 11, 2011 9:53 p.m.

As Occupy Wall Street activists clogged New York's Zuccotti Park protesting "corporate greed" and Occupy SF hit San Francisco's Financial District on Wednesday protesting "corporate greed," the world learned that Steve Jobs, perhaps America's most beloved modern capitalist, had died at age 56.

The protesters claim to represent the working people, the 99 percent of Americans who, according to their blog, are getting kicked out of their homes, must choose between groceries and rent and "are working long hours for little pay and no rights," if they're working at all. They "are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything."

"We are the 99 percent," they proclaim.

Jobs was probably about 0.000000000001 percent.

Yet Jobs and the 99 percenters have much in common. These activists represent the iGeneration. They grew up with iPods and laptops. They're tweeting from smartphones. They've grown up with pricey new gadgets and monthly plans that keep them plugged into Wi-Fi and 4G.

They carry signs and post their stories on the Web about the five-figure debt that they've incurred — some for tuition that hasn't landed them a good job, others in credit card debt — and they're angry that Washington bailed out Wall Street but hasn't done much for them.

Like members of the tea party, they're angry with Washington. But they're also scared, not the way tea partyers fear losing their hard-earned assets, but in the way young people are fearful in a bleak economy. "Is 'Following Your Dreams' supposed to be this Terrifying?" one young woman's sign reads. "$60,000-plus in debt from my student loans and 11 percent interest rate."

At a news conference Thursday, President Barack Obama said the OWS protests express "the frustrations that the American people feel."

Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo sees the "occupiers" as yet another effort, bolstered by organized labor and MoveOn.org, to establish a tea party on the left — with the help of a complicit news media that often painted his co-believers with unflattering stereotypes. "They would say that (the) tea party is people who wear Colonial hats, have signs and are a bunch of nuts," Russo observed.

Obama played that game two years ago when he quoted a letter he had received from a woman who told him, "I don't want government-run health care. I don't want socialized medicine. And don't touch my Medicare."

The Occupy Wall Street movement has its standouts, too. Its website features an unofficial list of demands, which include not only a universal single-payer health care system and free college education but also open borders, "immediate across-the-board debt forgiveness for all" and outlawing all credit reporting agencies. Former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers issued a "collective statement" that "a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power." So don't tell me that the right has a monopoly on crazy talk.

Or that the Dems, unlike the GOP, don't have a problem with their base.

Besides, though the manifestos provide plenty of fodder for scoffing, they distract from the protest's sad personal stories. The "We Are The 99 Percent" shows a gallery of anguish felt by people who are struggling — even losing the struggle — to stay above water.

Now, I think these folks are wrong to believe that more government from Washington is the answer to their problems. They say they want to restore the American dream, but their remedy looks too much like the Greek nightmare.

As Russo noted, "their big claim is that they think we need to have a bigger, more intrusive government in our lives." After four years of George W. Bush and Obama's increasing federal spending exponentially while the economy floundered, it should be clear that model has failed. Mainstream America will not follow the occupier playbook.

Voters may sympathize with these unemployed kids — but they're not going to toss them the keys to the car.

As Jobs advised students in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, you may be scared and you will make mistakes, but "don't be trapped by dogma."

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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