Steve Jobs and the American Dream

by Benjamin Domenech on 10:00 am October 6, 2011

The career of Steve Jobs exemplifies the American dream.

It is jarring that death strikes Jobs at a point so young – at 56, he barely had half the professional years of Edison, Ford, and Carnegie, who all died in their eighties. It means the world will miss out on the latter days of career, whether he would’ve stretched out for more incredible goals, or turned to more philanthropic pursuits. In his time, he touched so many areas of cultural life, not just through consumer products, his effect on communication and education, but also the creation of some of the best films of the past decade. So much work in such a compressed period of time. In the beginning, he seemed so young.  And at the end, he seemed old beyond his years.

Jobs was and will remain a cult-like figure, the confrontational counterculturalist, the turtlenecked Buddhist who lived in empty mansions. His products bore his imprint in incredible ways – the original iPods had volume and gain problems almost entirely due to Jobs’ personal hearing loss – and his ruthless expectation for perfection in design is evident – that things should not just look beautiful, but work beautifully. This came at a premium, of course, but it also planted the flag for others to follow and broaden the impact. Sometimes you need a $500 iPad before you have a $200 Kindle Fire.

The Apple fanbase, in recent years, insulated Jobs from the kind of criticism targeted at other prominent CEOs. The genius was all his, the failures the fault of an insufficient apostle. There was major blowback online when the New York Times reported recently that there was no public record of Jobs ever donating to charity.  In this, he was consistent with other progressives (charitable tracking statistics illustrate that those who favor government-mandated income redistribution are statistically far less giving with their own funds, and vice versa). But who knows if that would have changed in time. Carnegie’s dictum is that you spend the first third of your life learning, the second earning, the third giving what you’ve earned away. Jobs, of course, only got the first two.

Yet what Jobs gave the world was something far more fascinating and eye-opening than another museum wing. He was the rare inventor who did not lose sight of the ultimate marketplace for invention – remaining profoundly and tangibly consumer-focused. There have been few leaders of industry throughout the Twentieth Century who had comparable impact on this scale. Most didn’t have a pedigree that said they could change the world. They were tinkerers, dreamers, and visionaries. The risks they took didn’t all pay off. But oh, when they did…

Before the announcement came down yesterday, I’d planned to write something critical about this Peter Thiel essay, and Neal Stephenson’s too, both of whom write about what they view as an untimely end to American technological innovation. They raise some good points. But their pessimism just doesn’t ring true to me. And in Jobs’ death, I think I understand why.

Here’s the thing. The really brilliant ones – the ones who truly advance culture and technology and communication – change the things they touch in such a way that the barriers they break are thoroughly demolished. Afterwards, disenchantment sets in. These barriers are broken, yes, but what next? And time and again, the dust left behind becomes fertile soil for the ingenuity of our children and theirs.

The essence of American optimism is founded in a belief that the world we pass on can exceed the one we inherited. We are not prisoners of an all-encompassing destiny, and neither are our children. This is not a uniquely American inclination, mind you, but a human one – but not all cultures acknowledge or honor it. It was here in America where such an experience was uniquely understood from our inception in our creed. We create, as we were created, and know all who are created have worth. So they have an equal claim to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit. And the fruits of this pursuit are passed on via free enterprise to the new generation, who see in this device or invention not a crowning achievement or barrier buster or an endpoint, but the seed for new ideas, the foundation for new creations, the starting point for a boundless flood of imagination.

We break walls so they can step through. We take them so far, and they take themselves farther. We pass on principles gained, and they apply them. The old begets the new.

So Ray, the milkshake-mixer salesman, the son of Czech immigrants who lied about his age to fight in the First World War, invents fast food. And Bob, third son of a midwestern Congregational reverend, who built an airplane in the garage when he was 12, invents the microchip. And Steve, an Arab-American kid born out of wedlock, adopted son of a machinist and an accountant, drops out of college, starts a company in his garage, and invents something that puts the whole world in the palm of your hand.

It’s happened before. It will happen again. Until it does: Go west, old man, and grow young with the country.

Romney v. Perry: Regional Candidates?

by Benjamin Domenech on 5:38 pm September 7, 2011

One of the questions regarding the latest polling on the Republican race has to be the status of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry as regional candidates – whether each can compete feasibly outside of their traditional geography.

Here’s the latest data on that point from the Washington Post poll this week. First with Palin, then without.

Essentially, Romney and Perry’s numbers in the South are unchanged with or without Palin: 20/21 percent for Romney, 40/41 percent for Perry. The net non-South figures are slightly more liquid: 24/27 for Romney, 19/21 for Perry. But it’s the West where larger shift happens: 28/34 for Romney, a six point jump, and 23/26 for Perry.

My curiosity here is what Perry’s identification is like in the West, as it seems he has plenty of opportunities to appeal to that contingent. More interesting is the fact that Romney wins only one category among the ideological identifiers: his margin among self-identified Moderate/Liberal Republicans is 29% to Perry’s 12%, while Perry’s alignment is 37% to Romney’s 20% among self-identified Conservatives.

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Polls Illustrate Obama's Economic Policy Troubles

by Benjamin Domenech on 1:27 pm September 7, 2011

The Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Tuesday was one of a number of recent polls which show President Obama at record lows in terms of support and approval. (As Elizabeth Blackney pointed out on our podcast, the Tuesday polls were all the more troublesome for the White House given that they surveyed not likely voters, but registered voters or simply adults.) But there was one question in particular where the Washington Post poll stood out from the rest, at least for me, in terms of interest: an indication that only 17% of those surveyed thought President Obama’s economic policies were making the economy better. It’s the third question here.

Thanks to the kindness of The Fix’s Aaron Blake, who is the man, here’s some additional background on what that 17% represents in terms of a breakdown based on age, race, income, and party affiliation. In each case, for clarity’s sake I’ve removed the small percentage of didn’t know/declined to answer.

First, by age: only 22% of 18-29 year olds say Obama’s policies are improving the economy, but that’s his highest portion. He does the worst among 30-39 year olds, who are at 11%. For 40-49 it’s 21%, 50-64 it’s 18%, and 65+ it’s 14%.

Second, by race: as we’ve seen in the past when it comes to Obama’s policies, the perception is different – but perhaps not to the factor that you might expect. 36% of non-white respondents have a positive view of the president’s economic policy, while 11% of whites have that view.  62% of non-whites say Obama’s policies have made the economy worse or had no effect, and 87% of whites share that view.

Third, by income: across all incomes, the mood is dire. The positive viewpoint on Obama’s economy fluctuates only slightly, between 19% for under $50k earners, down to 12%, and back up to 19% for 100k+. However you define the middle class, it’s clear Obama has enormous dissatisfaction with his policies across all income levels.

Finally, by party affiliation. The real trouble here is not the Independents in my view, 86% of whom say Obama’s policies have made things worse or had no effect. The trouble is with Democrats, of whom 12% say Obama has made it worse, but a majority, 52%, say his policies have had no effect. That’s a total of 64% of Democrats who hold the worse/no effect view. That’s simply stunning to me, and it indicates that even if they are unwilling to part with the President when it comes to a pollster’s question, it’s a sign that they’re not willing to pretend they see good things happening in the economy either.
And that brings us to a final point: Obama’s 2008 run was one of the most exciting experiences for political supporters at the national level in American history. His passionate fanbase was engaged, active, and innovative. And looking back, it’s become clear that this passion helped disguise some of the Obama campaign’s failings in both the primary and the general. There was so much fire among his active supporters that many missteps had a much milder effect. If not just a plurality but the majority of President Obama’s partisan base now thinks that three years of his policies have had no effect on the problem, there is going to be a serious gap in energy within the Obama campaign operation, one that will be very difficult to replace.

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Obama's Terrible Poll Numbers

by Benjamin Domenech on 9:35 am September 6, 2011

Download Podcast | iTunes | Podcast Feed

On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Elizabeth Blackney and Benjamin Domenech walk through the latest poll numbers for Barack Obama. Hint: They’re really, really bad.

We’re brought to you as always by BigGovernment and Stephen Clouse and Associates. If you’d like to email us, you can do so at coffee[at] We hope you enjoy the show.

Related Links:

WaPo/ABC News Poll
The Atlantic: The Freelance Revolution
Hoffa: “Let’s take the sons of bitches out.”

[Read the rest…]

HP's Decision to Move Away From the PC Market

August 19, 2011

On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Francis Cianfrocca and Ben Domenech talk about the Eurozone in crisis and why computer makers want to get out of the computer making business and into the software/services business.

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The Fed Under Fire and Adam Hasner on Florida

August 18, 2011

On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Francis Cianfrocca and Ben Domenech talk about Rick Perry’s comments on the Fed, and Florida’s Adam Hasner talks about his run for the Senate.

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The Legacy of the New Deal

August 17, 2011

On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Hillsdale professor and author Burt Folsom joins Pejman Yousefzadeh and Kevin Holtsberry to discuss his book, New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America

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In Bachmann Attack, Ryan Lizza Smears Francis Schaeffer

August 8, 2011

The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza has a long, meandering piece on Michele Bachmann out today, making her out to be the fringiest of the fringe figures on the fringe–not so much on politics (this goes without saying), but in terms of religion. In the course of this survey of influences on Bachmann’s faith–much of which […]

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Obama’s Bad Poll Precedent

July 26, 2011

Gallup reports that President Obama’s weekly job approval rating has tied his lowest rating ever: “President Barack Obama averaged a 43% job approval rating for the week of July 18-24, tied for the lowest weekly average of his administration.” They note that this rating puts him solidly below the ratings of Bill Clinton at the […]

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Entitlement, Equality, and Earned Success

July 25, 2011

In recent weeks the radical left has attacked House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) for his purchase of an expensive bottle of wine at a hotel restaurant in Washington, DC. The incident reveals much about the nation’s current political conflict over entitlement policy—but not for the reasons the left might wish. Ryan was accosted […]

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