None of Your Business

By Guest Contributor

“I think attorneys are so busy. You know, they’re always taught to argue everything, and always weigh everything and weigh both sides and they’re always, you know, they’re always devil’s advocating this and bifurcating this and bifurcating that. You know all that stuff. But, I think it is maybe time. What do you think for maybe a businessman? How about that?”

To preface:  the above quotation is attributed to Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention. Admittedly, the statement was directed to a chair. Nonetheless, I think it bears consideration (I hope, for the sake of western civilization, that I never need issue that justification again.)   Furthermore, I should mention that my political orientation is most adequately described as “distressed” — I’ll leave it to the reader to decide where that falls with respect to “center”.

Clint’s words are rather unsettling because they point to an under-analyzed borough of the American ethos.  Namely: we’ve come to revere the “businessman” as the pinnacle of success.  This comes as no surprise to any casual observer of American attitudes — America is a nation that values ingenuity, innovation, individuality and perhaps less admirably, material abundance.  I’m not talking about the white-picket, vinyl-sided, three-bedroom modesty that the conservative wing of America seems so desperate to yank back from American magazine ads.  I’m talking MTV rich — Scrooge McDuck rich.  I can say with renewed confidence that this fascination with he-who-can-get-paid-the-most has, to some extent, made its way across the Atlantic. Here in Ireland they still have some of that Steve Jobs fervor that swept the nation a year ago.  Remember that?

I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but what exactly was so respectable about Steve Jobs?  Why did our nation wade half-delirious in a sea of sentimental reverence for the death of a man whose greatest contribution to civilization is used more often to play “Fruit Ninja” than for anything that could rightly be called productive?  Few Apple products offer any real novelty — the click-mouse often said to be invented by Jobs was almost assuredly borrowed from Xerox, and you could play a game of Jenga with all the tablets that preceded the iPad. Jobs wasn’t half as generous financially as some of his counterparts.  And what about those creepy Chinese factories/boarding houses? True, Apple’s products possess a certain tastefulness: they are stylish, simple and easy to use.  And they can run a hell of an ad campaign. Apple inspires a kind of shiny aluminum cult in its patrons.  And from start to finish, advertisement is a manipulative process.  It’s how we are convinced to wait overnight in cold expectation for something we previously never knew existed.  Should we really be falling in posthumous love for the guy who successfully convinced America that she is inherently un-cool?

The businessman, or the venture capitalist, is hardly worthy of this first-rate reverence either. Respect, sure.  Envy, if you’d like.  But why, if we value innovation and ingenuity, do we not admire the inventors of the Internet (under government contract, incidentally) as much as we do Steve Jobs?  Why should we think higher of men and women primarily concerned with the accumulation of personal wealth than of social workers and academics — people concerned with the advancement and betterment of our society? And why-oh-why should we think good businessmen make good presidents?

I’m not saying attorneys make the ideal president, and I won’t insult you by offering an explanation as to why running a profitable business and running a federal government are not the same — or why macroeconomics and public policy are not readily learned in the private sector.  But, more importantly, democracy and patriotism is about self-sacrifice for the common good: the recognition that our society can’t exist in its present form without collective action.  My point, merely: a president should demonstrate more than leadership and work-ethic.  In an age where political success generally means a big pay-off, he or she should demonstrate an unswerving concern for society, community, humanity and the understanding of all three — not just a commitment to his own advancement and financial success.  A president should “argue everything” and “weigh both sides” because his decisions don’t simply affect a third-quarter profit margin, but the wellbeing of an entire nation.  He must feel accountable (and, ideally, he is) to the people put out of work by his actions — a concept regrettably foreign to the world of corporate management.

Mohan Fitzgerald ’14

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