Party of Extremists
Steve Jobs, An American Original
|We have so few heroes today. That’s what makes Steve’s passing so sad.|
We have our “routine” heroes. You know, the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody likes to think about them because, deep down, we sense that they’re fighting unnecessary wars in unnecessary ways. But they’re fighting for us, and they’re risking their lives every day. And that makes them heroes. Who knows their names?
Then we have our the domestic heroes—the policemen, firemen, and medical first responders who save our lives and property every day, without asking who we are or whether we have insurance. You know, the ones who are being laid off in droves because we can’t seem to find the money to support heroes any more.
Today celebrities have replaced heroes. We’ve got Sarah Palin, a world-class gold digger, who just announced she’s not running for president, after everybody stopped caring. We’ve got raging bull Rick Perry, who’s great at fund raising and rabble rousing and not much else.
We’ve go so many whose names everybody knows because their antics entertain us. Yet ancient Greece or Rome would have ignored or ostracized them because they don’t have an ounce of the skill, finesse or learning that makes a leader.
So when a man like Steve Jobs falls, it’s a big deal.
Steve wasn’t quite the same kind of hands-on inventor as Thomas Edison. But no one since Edison has been anything like Steve. No one had the same single-minded passion for innovation and excellence. No one so honored the single credo “let’s make it better!” Steve lived that credo until the month before he died.
It’s invidious to compare national icons. But fifty years from now, historians will probably conclude that Steve changed our world—and for the better—as much as did Edison, who invented the electric light, phonograph, and motion pictures and started the first electric power company.
We all know about the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Most of us value the fact that anyone can use and enjoy these devices, without extensive training in hardware, software or electronics. But some of us forget that Steve Jobs, alongside Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak, invented the personal computer, long before Bill Gates and the hardware MBAs took it away from them.
And the vast majority of us still don’t know how superior Jobs’ computer operating system is for everything except justifying a whole industry to fix, update, repair and maintain its more popular rival. Gates created a gigantic industry around mediocre and poorly-performing software. Steve gave us products that made most of those jobs unnecessary.
Steve was no angel. He could throw tantrums. He could be a tyrant. And the corporate course he set just before he died began to resemble Gates’—a monopolist’s exercise in turf protection.
But laid against what Steve gave us, those things are peccadillo. He was not just a visionary, but a true hero. He wasn’t particularly good looking. He wasn’t the world’ smoothest personality. He had no ideology but excellence. He never complained about taxes, regulations, or “uncertainty.” He knew that the future is always uncertain, but he never lost faith that he could make it better.
Steve didn’t complain even when the MBAs banished him from the company he had founded. Instead he worked hard, invented, came back, saved his old firm from rigor mortis, and built several new industries in the process. As he did so, he taught us that an innovator with imagination can out-compete a passel of MBAs.
Steve never stopped envisioning new products to make consumers’ lives easier, richer and more fun. And his final battle—with cancer—he waged with consummate elegance and grace. He stayed on to fulfill his role, never mentioning his malady until it ripped him from the work he loved.
Steve ruled the empire he had created absolutely. He wanted things done his way. But for hundreds of millions of ordinary people, his way turned out to be better, more elegant, and more fun than all that had come before.
We will miss him. Our future, too, is uncertain. And now we have no one left with Steve’s unquenchable confidence that he could make it better for us.
Many people are still wondering why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reaffirmed his decision not to run for president.
There are lots of plausible reasons. He has no national experience, let alone experience in foreign, security or military policy. In a society trying to forget its morbid obesity, he’s much too fat. And the very things that seem to make him so attractive—his frankness and “authenticity”—can be time bombs in this era of “Gotcha!” politics. Just ask Joe Biden or Rick Perry.
There’s also another possible reason that no one dares to name. Am I the only one who’s noticed how effeminate are his mannerisms and style of speech? Is he a closet gay?
If I had any inclination to vote for a Republican for any office for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t care. I strongly support civil rights for homosexuals, including marriage, and I’m a fan of Barney Frank. But could a gay man ever get by the GOP’s huge homophobic wing?
Which brings me to the main point of this short essay. Today the Grand Old Party is “grand” in only one respect. It has built a “big tent” for extremists.
In a desperate try to maintain a party with nineteenth-century values in the twenty-first-century, the Republicans have invited in kooks of every stripe. They’ve collected racists, xenophobes, homophobes, gun nuts, anti-abortion crazies, Christian Taliban, extreme libertarians, immigrant bashers, and free-market fundamentalists and made them their own. They have built their party and their platform around the fanciful and reality-free propaganda of Limbaugh, Beck and Reilly. No view has been too extreme for them to endorse, as long as it promised votes for lower taxes, less regulation, and more power to their plutocratic masters.
From all appearances, Christie is honest, reasonably smart, personally modest, and (for the GOP today) relatively moderate. So how could he ever run the gauntlet of crazies in his party and win the nomination? And if he pandered to the kooks enough to win the nomination, how could he ever win the general election?
Ay, there’s the rub—the central dilemma of the GOP today.
We Americans are many things, not all good. But in the final analysis we tend to shun extremism. That’s why we rejected Communism even at the height of the labor movement in the last century, when the plutocrats were literally beating up working folk and shooting them down. That’s why we (so far) have rejected fascism. That’s why we so abhor the Taliban.
Can you overcome that basic cultural repugnance by collecting a whole lot of extremists of different stripes and calling them a political party? I think not.
In this era of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and ubiquitous cell-phone cams, electronic eyes are always watching. To win his party’s nomination, any Republican will have to say things that the general electorate won’t want to hear. And all those things will be recorded in full-color video, to be played back during the general campaign, over and over again.
Exhibit A in the general election will be every GOP candidate (including Romney) raising his or her hand to oppose any deficit reduction with so much as a one-in-ten ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts. This from the party that has demagogued the deficit as its only real issue for nearly two years! How do you think that video will play when our economy is one year sicker and one year more indebted, and after one more year of mindless cutting has put tens of thousands more teachers, police, fire fighters and other public servants out in the streets?
Romney is willing to run on that record because his ego is bigger than his brain. Why Jon Huntsman is running is anyone’s guess. Maybe he was in China too long and deluded himself that what had become of his party was mere foreign propaganda.
Romney is also an arrogant jerk, and therefore unelectable. That’s just one more reason why the GOP, like a trapped animal, is searching for any way out of his nomination.
But Romney is now the inevitable nominee and inevitable loser. It’s not his fault. He’s the best the Party of Extremists can produce, and the only semi-reasonable person willing to run on a Taliban platform.
But he can’t win.
No candidate of the Party of Extremists can win in a nation of cultural moderation and common sense, let alone against a centrist president known for his moderation, modesty and understatement. That’s why Christie wisely decided to bide his time to 2016, when he will have more experience and his party may have begun to reform itself.
P.S. I have to confess that I already have broken my vow to sit on my wallet. I’ve contributed to the campaigns of the President, Elizabeth Warren (as I had promised, and even more!) and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
What made me change my mind? The simple realization that money—in the form of campaign contributions—has virtually replaced voting in our so-called democratic process. Early reports of contributions to candidates now serve as a “pre-primary primary,” attracting media attention, what passes for respect in our twisted society, and still further contributions to leading candidates.
We no longer have anything like a representative democracy. Money talks. And since I’m relatively comfortable financially, I’m in a position to have more influence than most of the crazies (but certainly not the Koch Brothers!). So I would be remiss if I failed to exercise my true “franchise” to the best of my ability, in an attempt to save the country I love from extremism and continued decline.