By Art Hyland
Because of the release of a new movie about him, I wish to discuss Steve Jobs and his obvious success. But to do that leads me to one of Jobs’ greatest admirers, Rush Limbaugh. Rush’s fondness for Steve Jobs began with Rush’s great love of technology. He didn’t become enamored with Apple products because of Steve Jobs, he became enamored with Jobs because of his products. Rush knew they must have been demanded by someone who thought like he did: attempt as much as possible to achieve perfection. Jobs did that in every product he attempted, whether or not the products achieved commercial success. And many didn’t.
Limbaugh famously touts his own success (it’s a small part of his on-air schtick), which is well-founded and in itself a true Horatio Alger story. But he is the first to say there are achievers out there who have done or are doing things he could never do (such as play pro football). He praises achievers’ abilities, and consistently makes the case that a free society can and will produce random, collective greatness through the millions of individuals producing their best through hard work and maximum effort, knowing that in the United States they just might be rewarded for their efforts, but also knowing they are in competition with others who could trump their efforts. It’s this constant market pressure, he insists, that produces the finest to stand out, and the second or third best to also do quite well, thank you.
The combination of all those attempts, born of freedom of movement and choice, produces a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. For Rush this is the reason the United States has achieved its financial and cultural place in history, and remains the blueprint for continued success if the formula is just left alone by politicians who thwart it.
Steve Jobs said as much to President Obama in one of their last meetings. Jobs knew that Apple was made possible by the existence of a thriving United States, California in particular, where the infrastructure created by decades of previous entrepreneurs and companies produced an environment for someone like him to create the next big thing. He simply created many of those next big things, but admitted he couldn’t have done it without the existence of the free market into which he happened to have been born.
Obama’s Deer in the Headlights Look
Apple originally attempted to make all their products in the United States, but in a world where cost and creativity combine or they don’t survive, his company made the marketplace decision to manufacture all their products overseas, and in so doing became the American success they are today. A President Obama could never have listened to anyone else but a Steve Jobs tell him these facts. Unfortunately Obama’s ability to recognize the free marketplace as a key to greatness is so limited that Jobs thought Obama would be a single-term president. His prediction regarding elections was wrong, but Jobs was on to something. Jobs’ understanding of national politics was limited precisely because of his willingness to concentrate on his business; he didn’t really know the person with whom he was speaking. The Apple brand was one built on purity, intuitiveness, truthfulness, function and obvious value. The Obama brand resulted from exactly the opposite: deception, propaganda, lies, and faux image. Image is great, and Apple is in that business too, but in the end their products either produce or they are history. In politics, image alone can, and in Obama’s case appear to win out, and so Jobs’ words about freer markets and government’s over-regulation went right through Obama’s oversized ears, not having heard anything worth listening to.
One wonders if Jobs really thought much of Obama the person. Jobs had demanding standards, and it would be easy to guess Obama didn’t measure up. He considered Obama useful (he was the president after all), but liked him as a fox likes the weaknesses of the chicken fence.
Made For Rush
Like Apple, Limbaugh owes his success to an industry that existed structurally, but wasn’t aware of what potential existed within. There were predecessors who paved some of the roads not taken; one could look to former conservative radio great Paul Harvey as an example. In his day and in his way, he achieved much of what Rush achieves and has achieved: Harvey had a huge following who looked to him as a source for national glue — to hear Paul Harvey’s take on the news on any given day was to learn what was important to someone everyone knew loved his country. His time in the marketplace was when information was still controlled by a relative few. His ability to convince his listeners of the honesty in his approach to news, or of the humility of his perspective, was an automatic magnet to conservative listeners, and to those who didn’t know they were conservative.
The times were different then. Sort of like the Father Knows Best decades prior, which gave way to the Paul Harvey decades. Which gave way to the Rush Limbaugh decades. Liberals might argue about placing Rush in this lineup, but that’s only because they have become such critics of conservative success they refuse to acknowledge it for fear of losing face with their peers. This kind of opposition did not dominate during the Father Knows Best/Paul Harvey years, which is why today’s liberals gravitated toward image-building in order to select their own success choices: politics (including law), entertainment or education. They can’t succeed in any other venues. I would submit that most examples found of companies run by liberals exist because of some political connection or laws created on their behalf. Don’t count Jobs in this list; he was a closet capitalist. Limbaugh, having the advantage of learning about America from his father, mother and grandparents, patriots all when patriotism was something you were born with and automatically cherished, found it easy to explain his decades’ political shortcomings to his audience, just as his predecessors had.
Private Risk Trumps
To Jobs and Rush, the forces of capitalism, freedom and competition–along with an ethic of live and let live, external boldness while privately living the value of humility, awareness of the value of experiencing both successes and failures — produced the fabric of a nation that can only be a smashing success if its citizens remain free to choose their own destinies.
The ever-growing big hand of government is in direct opposition to the life-long system by which Jobs pursued his dreams. While he openly supported liberal ideas (by for instance hiring and praising Al Gore or leap-frogging cultural and other barriers to gays in the workplace), his company’s business plan spoke otherwise. There was nothing corporate he wouldn’t do to satisfy what he wanted as the ultimate consumer of technologically advanced devices. And no government nor competitor would cause him to deviate from his plan to create and produce products for the world no one else could imagine.
He married a woman who embraced everything that seemed to oppose his company’s drive for success (her devotion to people like Gore might have motivated Jobs to find a way to satisfy her environmental interests but produce a backend benefit for Apple by solidifying government markets for Apple products). But perhaps she just helped him understand the place where he grew up and founded his company — California. In publicly supporting home-grown liberal causes popular there, he bought the rights to harvest the inner capitalist in each liberal he hired, making Apple computer one of the most successful companies ever. There may be no better employee than a liberated liberal working toward a capitalist goal defined by a leader they trust. Obama has plugged into this concept as well; except his goals and his people are in direct opposition to how Jobs lived his entire productive life. Both extracted the inner motivation of loyal, even zealous workers, but Jobs risked his wealth, and the wealth of an entire company with each product, while Obama, absent personal risk, risks an entire nation’s wealth by championing anti-capitalist policies killing the very free-market environment that produced a Steve Jobs he claims to revere.
Jobs clearly saw, and Limbaugh sees that the formula for this nation was known by its founders and for many generations later, but has been lost in the sea of mediocrity caused by too much government control. When individuals who otherwise might create the next big thing feel it’s the government who’s in competition with them or stifles their plans, their competitive balloons burst, resulting in an achievement vacuum. We’re in that vacuum right now and it will swallow this nation entirely unless the dormant but still-strong desire of individual achievers say enough is enough, demanding a return to freedom, sanity and less regulated, collective but individually chosen success once again.
Both Jobs and Limbaugh, ostensibly political opposites, but in fact brothers from a different culture, are examples of the two types of voters in this nation that has veered from its founding traditions. There’s room for both kinds, but it will mean that liberals must allow their inner conservative back in their lives, while the conservatives must admit that liberals are really just conservatives who need the leadership of people like Steve Jobs to prove who they really are inside. They’ll have to learn to accept praise from Rush Limbaugh as well. And realize the Constitution was created as the ultimate guarantor of their freedom to live their lives as they were meant to live.