The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street and Steve Jobs

November 6, 2011, 8:00 PM UTC

What do these three have to do with one another? Frank Rich finds a thread

Steve Jobs shrine in New York City. Photo: PED

“Nothing has revealed how much the class warriors of the right and left of our time have in common,” writes Frank Rich in the Oct. 23 issue of
New York Magazine
, “than the national outpouring after Steve Jobs’s death.”

Rich, who left his high-profile perch on the OpEd page of the New York Times earlier this year to be a writer-at-large for New York, starts the essay entitled The Class War Has Begun by comparing the Bonus Army that pitched tents in view of the Capitol at the height of the Great Depression to the crowd that took over Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park nearly 80 years later. He quickly concludes, as many observers (but few participants) have, that the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements are really two sides of the same coin.

Enter the late co-founder of Apple (AAPL). “Some on the right,” Rich writes, “were baffled that the ostensible Marxists demonstrating in lower Manhattan would observe a moment of silence and assemble makeshift shrines for a top one-percenter like Jobs.” He quotes the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin:

“There is perhaps no greater image of irony, than that of anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-materialist extremists of the Occupy Wall Street movement paying tribute to Steve Jobs.”

Rich responds to Malkin by making an interesting case — one I hadn’t heard before — that the kind of capitalism Jobs pursued bears almost no resemblance to the capitalism that both the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers feel has failed them. He writes:

Those demonstrators who celebrated Jobs were not necessarily hypocrites at all — and no more anti-capitalist than the Bonus Army of 1932. If you love your Mac and iPod, you can still despise CDOs and credit-default swaps. Jobs’s genius — in the words of Regis McKenna, a Silicon Valley marketing executive who worked with him early on — was his ability “to strip away the excess layers of business, design, and innovation until only the simple, elegant reality remained.”

The supposed genius of modern Wall Street is the exact reverse, piling on excess layers of business and innovation on ever thinner and more exotic creations until simple reality is distorted and obscured. Those in [Sarah] Palin’s “real America” may not be agitated about the economic 99-vs.-one percent inequality brought about by the rise of the financial sector in the past three decades, but, like class warriors of the left, they know that “financial instruments” wreaked havoc on their 401(k)s, homes, and jobs.

The bottom line remains that Wall Street’s opaque inventions led directly to TARP, the taxpayers’ bank bailout that achieved the seemingly impossible feat of unifying the left and right in rage against government — much as Jobs’s death achieved the equally surprising coup of unifying left and right in mourning a corporate god.

I miss my weekly dose of Frank Rich. It’s good to have him back. You can catch his recent essays here.