Martin Bashir of MSNBC completely nails it with his contrast between the extraordinary genius Steve Jobs and the extraordinary grifter, Sarah Palin (the transcript is below.)
It’s time now to clear the air and today, we’ve marked two important stories: the tragic and sad passing of a true creative genius at the age of just 56 and, hopefully, the end of a charade that’s been going on for three years. One individual represents the very best of American exceptionalism: brilliant, determined, creative. The other represents the very worst form of American opportunism: vacuous, crass, and according to almost every biographer, vindictive too.
He played himself to the very end, casually dressed, focused on producing product after product, that would transform culture, information, and our social interaction. Over the last three years, she created nothing, produced nothing, and served no one but herself.
And, while the vast majority of consumers have expressed high levels of satisfaction with the products he produced, imagine how her most ardent followers must feel today. They were misled into buying ghost-written and vain glorious books that attempted to create the illusion of leadership and character. They bought tickets to see a documentary that ignored fact and was a celluloid whitewash of her life. Even on the day that she confirmed that all of us knew, that she wouldn’t be running for president, she still dropped a video asking for more donations. Amazing.
But, although the death of Steve Jobs coincided with Sarah Palin’s announcement, it has been a helpful accident of fate, because it allows us to realize and commemorate the greatness of one individual’s contribution and the utter futility of another’s.
The right wing is going absolutely bonkers over this, apoplectic in their disgust. When the curtain gets pulled back, they don’t like it one bit. But Bashir’s commentary is important because there is a philosophical debate happening in this country about the very topic of American exceptionalism. On one side you have people like President Obama exhorting us to be better than we are, to hold justice and fairness in high regard and for everyone to contribute to the greater good of the country in a way that’s fair and decent. In this way, we create an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish; where geniuses like Steve Jobs can rise from a geeky college kid to creating and heading a company that at one time had more money than the U.S. Treasury.
On the other side of the debate you have people like Sarah Palin, a woman who, as Bashir so eloquently points out, has created nothing but attention and a cash machine for herself. In her version of American exceptionalism, and that of her fellow conservatives like Herman Cain and others, you are exceptional only if you are successful. In other words, exceptionalism is individual-oriented rather than collective-oriented. If you aren’t successful, you do not deserve even the chance to better yourself because it’s your own fault that you are where you are. And, if you are successful, you have no obligation to give something back to the system that made your success and wealth possible. Any requests to do so are anti-American in their view.
So, while the conservative pundits on the right make claims that Bashir is somehow exploiting Jobs’ death simply as a way of attacking Sarah Palin, they miss the crux of his argument; that there is a great divide and a stark contrast between these two Americans. And it’s a contrast that should be recognized and discussed so that we are sure to hold the truly exceptional Americans like Steve Jobs in the highest regard while we relegate the crassly opportunistic Americans like Sarah Palin to their properly inconsequential position in history.