May 3, 2013

Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?

I wonder — as I scan the news this morning for topics and stop to think about Howard Kurtz and Jason Collins. Kurtz isn't a bold or great writer. He was dependent on Tina Brown, and he crossed a line, got a little edgy but didn't bother to sharpen up for the attempted edginess, and he got cut. Tina Brown runs her various operations. Is she at the level that should awe us?

Jason Collins was never a great basketball player. It's pathetic — a literal joke — that must we look at basketball to find men to look up to. (They are tall.) But this week, we're expected to admire this athlete we hadn't heard of before not for any athletic achievement but for the miniature feat of revealing — after years and years of hiding — that he's gay. Did he risk anything? His revelation comes at the end of his lackluster career, he's receiving plaudits from everyone on up to Barack Obama, and since his college days, he's had powerful political friends including Chelsea Clinton and (his erstwhile roommate) Joe Kennedy.

Is Barack Obama a great man? He's reached the top position. That takes some doing. He scrambled up over a number of people — were they great? — and he maintained his position, but is he great? We — some of us — like him. He seems like a good person — to some people, the ones who feel comfortable enough with him because at least he's not Bush, he's got a nice smile that reminds us of hope and Republicans seem mean, and it's not really his fault that there are so many problems.

And how about those Clintons and Kennedys and — as long as we're listing American dynasties — Bushes? There are no giants here. Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?

It must be us. This must be our doing. Our preference.

IN THE COMMENTS: Jonas quotes George Carlin:
"Now, there's one thing you might have noticed I don't complain about: politicians. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here... like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks. There's a nice campaign slogan for somebody: 'The Public Sucks. Fuck Hope.'"
Henry and Balfegor both mention Steve Jobs as the last great man. When I wrote "Kurtz isn't a bold or great writer," I immediately thought Christopher Hitchens.

191 comments:

ricpic said...

That's easy: the triumph of egalitarianism MUST result in the death of greatness.

Nonapod said...

That which we interpret as greatness can often be analyzed to death. Even the various great figures of history can be riddled with flaws that make them seem less great at times. Great men aren't always good men I supposed either.

It certainly doesn't seem like we currently have a wide selection of people who could be called "Great" these days though. Are we just too jaded and critical or our we suffering from a genuine greatness drought?

jimbino said...

We'll probably end up like the Banana Republics or the Muslim and Asian Trogloregimes, where you always find the great men and women, like Jack Kervorkian, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, in prisons.

edutcher said...

In order to remove everyone from the scene but them, The Lefties have made sure anyone with any trait approximating greatness will be slimed to the point they cannot participate in public life.

Think PC, Hate Speech, Raaaacism, Sexism, Lookism, Homophobia, not to mention the Lefty Slime Machine.

Who wants to go through what Ray Donovan did and, when vindicated after several years, have to ask, "Now where do I go to get my reputation back?".

The Alinskys and Ayerses have made sure the stage is reserved for Serial Rapists In Chief, Winter Soldiers Who Still Have The Hat, Choom Gangsters, and Secretaries Of State Who Want To Know What Difference It Makes.

JHapp said...

Walker has done more for this country than anyone since Lincoln.

traditionalguy said...

Obama has a great communicator's talent and a super smile to enchant folks.

And Clarence Thomas said it best that Obama has wisely made himself into what the elite liberal Media expects to see from a black man.

His great flaw is his exercising the power he won to change a once great nation and its culture into a deadly false set of beliefs that military weakness is a strength, Muslims are our friends and that a socialist poverty that the rest of the world now hates is the highest progress we should ever seek.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Maybe Washington was considered great during his lifetime.

That's about it.

Oh, and maybe Alexander.

MayBee said...

Mitt Romney was pretty darn close to being A Great Man..

Sebastian Junger is, if not great, really amazing. The real most interesting man in the world.

MOH recipients are prey great.

My husband is a great and good man.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Not exactly, Ann. The snag is in the "national stage" part. It's not that there isn't greatness; it's that greatness and fame are increasingly uncoupled. Not entirely -- there are certainly great athletes and great musicians and great actors who are deservedly recognized as such -- but more so than they've ever been in my lifetime.

As for politicians, well, there you have me. Obama is so far below the standard even of the 90s that it drives me nuts. Clinton may have been a randy lyin' SOB, but at least he knew how the game was played. Bush Jr. may have made an absolute mess of a lot of things, but he's given the best exhibition of "how to be an ex-POTUS" I've ever seen. (Carter -- Habitat for Humanity apart -- is how not to do it.)

Lyssa said...

"Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. What great men have held that post. John Marshall, Charles Evans Hughes, Warren Burger . . . mmmmm, burger."

Lucien said...

Maybe it's a result of American preeminence, or the relatively tranquil times we've been living through. Our country has no enemies capable of posing a threat to our continued existence, nor have we been faced with truly great crises of late. (Al Qaeda? North Korea? Hardly worthy adversaries.)
Perhaps a dire test or crucible of leadership would have brought out greatness in some of our leaders -- or perhaps they would have failed.

F said...

I think it's because we don't distinguish between notoriety, celebrity and greatness. We used to recognize the difference between a notorious bank robber, a celebrated movie star and a great president. Now all three are conflated into one.

X said...

when Hillary is the smartest woman in America and Michelle is the most beautiful, it really does say something about us. that we love lies.

Henry said...

And Steve Jobs is dead.

lgv said...

Jason Collins wasn't even the first. It's just hype for the story. Glen Burke was first in team sports.

Penn State alum and NBA player John Amaechi came out in 2007, albeit after his NBA career was over.

When 95% of people don't care if Jason Collins is gay, it's not all that brave. Kind of like the 99% of people who ignored the Anderson Cooper announcement.

Coming out now isn't quite as "brave" as it used to be. Saying you are anti-gay may require more bravery these days.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Me quoting me:

"Bush Jr. may have made an absolute mess of a lot of things, but he's given the best exhibition of "how to be an ex-POTUS" I've ever seen."

Ever seen in my own lifetime, that is. William Howard Taft leaving the Presidency and landing on the Supreme Court is pretty well unbeatable.

lemondog said...

Greatness is acclaimed in retrospect.

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

Obama has a great communicator's talent and a super smile to enchant folks.

Thing is, and I appreciate where tg is trying to go, Choom has that nice speaking voice and looks good in a suit, but he's no Great Communicator.

People don't turn off a Great Communicator in increasing numbers every time he speaks. He isn't booed at a football game 2 weeks before his re-election campaign is over. He doesn't need the press to bail him out constantly.

A Great Communicator rises above all that.

PS I'd say jimbino is trying to be funny, but, knowing him...

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

F sums it up better than I did.

virgil xenophon said...

"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves..."

Writ Small said...

Self esteem. To convince ourselves we're not racist, we elevate the mediocrity Barack Obama. To lessen feelings of inadequacy, we denigrate the accomplishments of Mitt Romney.

Colonel Angus said...

I'll take competence over greatness.

virgil xenophon said...

And, yes, @"F"

Aridog said...

It must be us. This must be our doing. Our preference.

Bingo!

We've been guided well, as we devolved to a populace who expects more than they contribute, by those who want know-nothings in office to cloak their collectivist goals. AS @ edutcher has said...that is how we get the guys with the hat and the gals who think nothing makes a difference.

Clyde said...

Many Americans liked Obama as a concept: The First Black President -- Oh, how unprejudiced we are! But the reality of Obama is not of a likeable man. He's arrogant, petulant, narcissistic, and he cares little for constitutional niceties. Like many things in life, he was far better as an abstract concept than as the concrete reality currently doing his best Nixon impersonation in the Oval Office.

Big Mike said...

He seems like a good person ...

To whom?

Henry said...

Perhaps a partial answer to this question is this: In his biography of Churchill Roy Jenkins writes "I have become increasingly convinced that great men have strong elements of comicality about them..."

All of those that would be great in our country are desperately, tediously, serious.

I honestly believe that Bill Clinton could have been great, but for his personal failures and a certain petty-mindedness. He lacked a great goal to pursue outside of personal aggrandizement. He did have the comicality down.

Jay said...

Note:

n the wake of that decision, CNN also announced that Kurtz’s longtime weekend media criticism show, “Reliable Sources,” was under review.

The obedience to "This man is a courageous hero" must be complete.

Eustace Chilke said...

History is written by the winners who then endow themselves with greatness. I wouldn't trade a dead cat for the entire lot of US presidents. Orwellian greatness we have in unprecedented abundance.

Aridog said...

F said...

I think it's because we don't distinguish between notoriety, celebrity and greatness.

Bingo again!!

I may just have to steal that line for my own use. Thank you.

Sorun said...

"he's got a nice smile that reminds us of hope and Republicans seem mean, and it's not really his fault that there are so many problems."

When women get the vote...

And Nancy Pelosi says that Hillary is the most qualified for the presidency in modern history?! No, 2-term governors are the most qualified. We're fucked.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

We can stop many pro basketball players from being used as role models by simply being honest about their 'college' academic credentials.

No fucking way most of them, the African American ones anyway, are academically qualified to get into college, yet alone take and pass classes.

This is why the new normal (it didn't use to be so) in college basketball is to not expect to keep a team of Freshman together for 4 years. It is much easier to keep academic fraud going for only 1-2 years rather then 4. They bolt to NBA before much scrutiny.

Think this is a minor issue? The Broken Windows effect works little window by little window.

sinz52 said...

"Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?"

The times make the man. In today's times, what can they be great about?

Before the South fired on Fort Sumter, nobody expected Lincoln to be a particularly great man. His detractors were contemptuous of him.

The reason why so few figures on the national stage today are capable of greatness, is because they're limited by the decline of the nation they're living in.

What would a great man--if one appeared on the national stage--do anyway?

Can a great man win a great military victory anymore? After the Iraq War disaster, nobody would stand for that. Can a great man make America the undisputed economic superpower again? Not with China and India and the Pacific Rim giving us such tough competition in manufacturing.

By the time Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the decline of Britain from superpower (the British Empire) to second rate power was complete. Thatcher was able to rally that second rate power to economic advancement. But Britain still remained a second-rate power. Even under Thatcher, it could never regain its former superpower status.

Aridog said...

Clyde said ....

the reality of Obama ... currently doing his best Nixon impersonation in the Oval Office.

Another Bingo. I think I love this thread.

Crimso said...

"Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders."

"Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never persistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man."

Frank Herbert

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Henry,

All of those that would be great in our country are desperately, tediously, serious.

You've nailed it, I think. It's the earnestness that kills -- the awful, deadening earnestness. "Enlivened," supposedly, by jokes written by speechwriters and fed into the teleprompter.

This is why someone like Chris Christie is nationally popular, despite being a severely chunky governor of a smallish state that people generally don't visit if they can help it, unless they have kids at Princeton. The man has an actual sense of humor. He enjoys his job, and can think -- and be witty -- on his feet, without the help of a support staff.

Crimso said...

"He seems like a good person — to some people, the ones who feel comfortable enough with him because at least he's not Bush, he's got a nice smile that reminds us of hope and Republicans seem mean, and it's not really his fault that there are so many problems."

Sounds like a quote from "Atlas Shrugged."

AllenS said...

I would like to take this opportunity and come out of the closet. I am NOT gay.

Thank you. Thank you. Oh, please, your constant applause is not needed. Really. OK, OK, I hear you, but please you can quit applauding now. Peace Prize? Really, for me? Well, I'll accept it, after all it's like the greatest accomplishment a man could ever receive.

Aridog said...

AllenS akbar! :-)

exhelodrvr1 said...

Everyone gets a trophy!

Don't have honor rolls in school, because it might make some students feel bad.

Don't flunk anybody.

Dante said...

We are living in a socially stagnating era. As technology, not science, continues to march on, we get the feeling of progress, but it isn't there.

Modern movies are next to impossible to watch, as they are riddled with trite themes. The woman who can kick any guy's ass. The black overcoming racism. The metro-fag who suddenly realizes what an ass he has been all his life, and he only needs to give up male ego to be happy.

Art has sucked for many years. It's not merely incomprehensible, nearly all of it is ugly to look at.

Science is stagnating, and lately there are ominous warnings from Nature and other magazines that bias is at the heart of it. Recently a pharmaceutical company tried to replicate 26 studies. It could only replicate 2.

As they state on the "Big Bang Theory," there hasn't been anything new in physics since the 1930s. String theory has the wonderful attribute that it proves everything, and nothing at all. There are no practical experiments that can falsify it, though one proponent pointed out that if you made a linear accelerator from here to Alpha Centari, and a cow popped out, that would be pretty good proof string theory is wrong.

In other words, we are riding on past accomplishments, but tweaking them insanely because we think we ought to improve over our fore-fathers, But, we can't.

We are stagnant, and consuming what made us great to feed our egos by thinking we are making progress.

Yes, there are some bright spots, but in general we are going in the reverse direction. Our future society will become increasingly less capable of achieving breakthroughs, and the left will win as all of us will be the same. Bland oatmeal.

edutcher said...

sinz52 said...

Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?

The times make the man. In today's times, what can they be great about?


There is that War on Terror thing that's probably going to run at least 100 years before we find out who really wins.

And the battle to save Western Civilization from both the Lefties and the crazies.

And the battle to save this country from the panderers and the slugs.

Before the South fired on Fort Sumter, nobody expected Lincoln to be a particularly great man. His detractors were contemptuous of him.

After, too.

McClellan's nickname for him was The Original Gorilla, an image popular in may newspaper cartoons. I don't think people appreciated him until after he was dead.

Browndog said...

On any given day you can visit Yahoo.com, the home page, and see who is on the "national stage".

Then, ask yourself who put them there.

Their "greatness" is usually thoroughly explained in the article, the headline usually explains the genre in which their greatness lies.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt,

We can stop many pro basketball players from being used as role models by simply being honest about their 'college' academic credentials.

No fucking way most of them, the African American ones anyway, are academically qualified to get into college, yet alone take and pass classes.


You do not know this, and in fact cannot know this. And your assumption that Black players aren't qualified, but non-Black players maybe are, is insulting.

That said, I know what you mean. College basketball scholarships are nothing but an NBA farm-team system, and there is no real pretense, even, that "education" is part of the deal. It's a sick setup, and one that leaves behind a lot of uneducated and jobless kids.

Colonel Angus said...

Kurtz isn't a bold or great writer.

Perhaps Tina Brown should hire Kitty Pryde.

Palladian said...

The concept of greatness is mostly bullshit.

Chuck66 said...

I thought of that the other day. Was listening to a sports talk radio program and they were talking about a baseball player who took several minutes to get all of his expensive jewerly off when he got to the ball park. Even had an ankle bracelet (jewelry, not the law enforcement kind).

We've come a long way since Bob Feller fought in WW2.

chuck said...

There is a general lack of character in the political class, due in no small part to the inherent dishonesty of the left and the PC requirement to avoid saying true, but inconvenient, things. Such dishonesty rots the mind, bores the intelligent, and blinds the electorate. It is difficult to be great when all are pressured to be trivial.

Chuck66 said...

Jackie Robinson. Lived during a time that in the old Jim Crow south, you could be lynced or shot for not obeying what a white man told you to do.

Collins said he likes to have sex with other men.

Yup, I can see how people want to compare the two.

AllenS said...

Palladian said...
The concept of greatness is mostly bullshit.

That was brilliant. Would you like a Nobel Peace Prize too?

Balfegor said...

Re: Althouse:

Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?

Any degree of celebrity and political involvement trigger heightened scrutiny of peoples' personal lives and the lives of everyone they touch -- even with nobodies like "Joe the Plumber" or "Sandra Fluke." This naturally selects for bland, boring, polished people. And even if there were someone who has the seeds of greatness in him, well, "no man is a hero to his valet." And we see everything the valet would see, these days.

virgil xenophon said...

Political "Heroes"/"Leaders" of yore were more often than not already men of solid accomplishment prior to their leadership ascendency, e.g. Churchill, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Eisenhower, Lincoln, Grant, FDR, Regan etc., to name but a few. Even the "mere" "haberdasher" HST served as a decorated Captain of Artillery in the trenches in WW II. Now.....compare these peoples' prior accomplishments to those of Obama.

Of course being a military hero like Grant (or Hitler) doesn't guarantee a successful Presidency, but as Damon Runyon
famously said: "The race does not always go to the swift, nor the contest to the strong--but that's the way to bet."

Chuck66 said...

I wonder if a lot of the lack of character amongst politicians is due to the fact that our government has grown so incredibly huge and powerful.

So who controls government controls almost ever aspect of our lives. So you get control freaks and those with social agendas in there, vs people who just want to stear and protect our country.

Jonas said...

George Carlin said:

"Now, there's one thing you might have noticed I don't complain about: politicians. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here... like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks. There's a nice campaign slogan for somebody: 'The Public Sucks. Fuck Hope.'"

Chuck66 said...

virgel X, good point. The last two Democrat presidents have only done politics their entires lives. I wonder if that is the future.

No more veterans. Businessmen. Or even those that come from public service, but more like diplomats then elected politicians.

That was the idea behind the part-time state legislature. The members were supposed to be those who worked their entire lives, and then took the job in the capital as part timers. Not careerists.

Bob Ellison said...

You mean "it must be we".

Balfegor said...

As I think about it, the only American in recent years who attained anything like "greatness" was Steve Jobs. I don't care for his design sense or his products, but he was an old fashioned robber baron, a titan of industry, with a vision and drive powerful enough to stun the usual anklebiters into silence. Well, not really an old-fashioned robber baron -- they donated generously to museums and other public works. Jobs was practically a character out of an Ayn Rand fantasy, in contrast.

gadfly said...

Ever since the Obama canonization, those of us who know better have been looking for the wizard behind the curtain. Since the formal organization of the ruling class remains secret, we are left to speculate as to exactly who is in charge. It certainly is not Barry Zero.

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" Da Shadow do.

Balfegor said...

Re: gadfly:

Since the formal organization of the ruling class remains secret, we are left to speculate as to exactly who is in charge. It certainly is not Barry Zero.

The answer is the usual answer: nobody is in charge. There's probably a bunch of people with their own little fiefdoms in the administration maneuvering around each other, generating policy incidentally as they jockey for power.

virgil xenophon said...

And tho "F" touched on it tangentially in mentioning conflating "celebrity" with greatness, so far noone have mentioned the pernicious influence of Television. No bald, fat man, however brilliant and intellectually courageous he may be and no matter what his accomplishments, will EVER be elected President again. And it should be noted that polls (and the social science literature) tell us the taller candidate has an overwhelming advantage in this visual age, no matter what his merits. (This doesn't guarantee success as Bush v Carey shows, but it helps.) That the maj of those who listened to the Nixon-JFK debates thought Nixon one while those who watched on TV thought the reverse tells one everything one needs to know about how we measure the worth of our "Leaders."

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...


You do not know this, and in fact cannot know this. And your assumption that Black players aren't qualified, but non-Black players maybe are, is insulting.


I think "tragic" is the word you need, not "insulting".

Ever heard of the Achievement Gap? Looked at the graduation rates by race? Listened to these guys speak?

Just because one desperately doesn't want something to be true, doesn't mean it isn't.

I think that, by definition, the truth can't be "insulting".

If it were, or if we let it be, progress would stop.

virgil xenophon said...

LOL--"won" v. "one"

Beorn said...

AllenS, thank you for your courage!

Inspired by your temerity, I am coming out of the closet to admit I too am a heterosexual(and also, that I have a mild foot-fetish - since we're now revealing intimate secrets about ourselves publicly).

BarrySanders20 said...

Right. "We" prefer that figures on our national stage lack greatness because "we" put them there.

60 million people voted for the other guy and are unimpressed with the smile or the arms on his wife. Many more are indifferent about the alleged courage of a marginal professional athlete announcing his sexual preferences or the grievances of tribal-Americans.

But the leftists who "put" Barry on stage, the same ones who control the universities, entertainment and media and who promote all things gay as courageous and triumphant, now speak for all of "us" because these are their preferences?

That's some weak soup.

Colonel Angus said...

Since the formal organization of the ruling class remains secret, we are left to speculate as to exactly who is in charge. It certainly is not Barry Zero.

There isn't a secret ruling class or elite cabal that is calling the shots. The Federal government is a bureaucratic behemoth that, much like a cargo ship, can easily trundle along without someone at the helm. It's only when a course correction is needed that a competent helmsman is required.

Unfortunately we are stuck with the captain of the Titanic.

n.n said...

People are voting for instant gratification. The corruption that it breeds should not be unexpected. Obama is the culmination of degenerate dreams and mediocre expectations.

What purpose does a redistributive change (i.e. selective distribution) economic model serve and can it be reconciled with reality?

What purpose does institutional discrimination serve and can it be reconciled with preservation of individual dignity?

What purpose does normalizing abortion serve and can it be reconciled with the value of human life?

People dream of material, physical, and ego instant gratification without perceived consequences. There are people who are ready and willing to exploit their unrealistic and base desires to advance their own political, economic, and social standing.

Obama is a product of unqualified progress. However, he is far from unique in exhibiting a flawed character. He is merely exemplary of sabotaged character development, where people normalize behaviors which have no redeeming value to society, humanity, or even the individual.

Anyway, just do what feels good is not a viable philosophy.

AReasonableMan said...

I agree with some of the other posters that Steve Jobs was a great man. He was also the son of an Arab, dropped LSD and a practicing Zen buddhist. Not the typical characteristics of a robber baron.

Big Mike said...

"Show me a hero and I'll show you a bum."

The person who wrote that in his autobiography was Greg "Pappy" Boyington, a World War II Marine aviator. He had been awarded both the Navy Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At the end of this post the Professor wrote "It must be us. This must be our doing." Yes it is. We fear the bum more than we desire the greatness.

mccullough said...

We have one President whose main accomplishment is his dad was president, a would be President whose main accomplishment is her husband was President, and the current President whose main accomplishment is that he makes white people feel good about themselves.

This isn't the stuff of greatness.

Hagar said...

Well, this may have some bearing on why the NY cops do not seem too bright.

Nonapod said...

If Greatness is defined as effecting a lot of lives in a very positive way (like saving them or generally bettering them) there have certainly been a lot individuals in our lifetimes who qualify. Whether it's by saving millions from starvation like Norman Borlaug, performing heroic life saving actions in battle like MOH recipients, helping save people from the horrors of genicide as recipients of Israels Righteous Among the Nations honor have done, or simply effected peoples everyday lives for the better like Steve Jobs.

I think the problem isn't that there aren't Great Men out there, it's that we fail to recognize real greatness any more.

glenn said...

We haven't seen true greatness because we haven't needed a great man. It's been summertime, the livin has been easy since the end of WW2. But there's a chill wind in the air due to lack of leadership in the West and when over the next generation or so the chill destroys all the prosperity we have you younguns are gonna get really cold.

William said...

As a corollary to the Chinese curse of "may you live in interesting times", I would add "may you be led by a great leader". The distinguishing quality of most great leaders is their willigness to sacrifice vast amounts of lives for some great ideal or natonal purpose. If the myth makers--the artists and poets-share these ideals the great leaders reputation is sealed.....Wellington called enlisted men "scum" and had them flogged for breaches of discipline. Nonetheless, he refused battle on many occasions simply because he felt the casualties would be too high. Napoleon promoted some of his most distinguished marshals from the ranks and took care to know the names of common soldiers. Nonetheless he abandoned three armies, and your odds of survival weren't all that great in any of his glorious victories.....But Napoleon was The Man of Destiny. He's the one that movie stars want to play, and novelists and historians want to write about. Fie on greatness.

Cedarford said...

We have created narratives of greatness and "hero-hood" that mightily confuse us all.

Greatness in a job or in life has become less about accomplishment and more about self-promotion, having hired flacks to promote what you can't.
We also undermine greatness by a gossip approach to major people in their fields, determined to find info that will make them seem ordinary, or at least cut them down to size.
We now lack the criteria for greatness that past generations went by.
In political leaders we don't ask if they made America better. But how wet they made female voters. What goodies they borrowed money to had out - be it Obamaphones or wars for Noble Muslim Freedom Lovers..
In business leaders, we don't ask if they served America's collective good, but how happy they made short-term investors. Steve Jobs is supposedly a great man. On stock price and cache`. But he also made all Apple stuff Chinese made and transferred 95% of jobs to China or other overseas venues, doing little to help America itself do better in his time heading Apple.

Later, free of the promotion and worshipful hacks, we see such figures of the past like Bush, Jobs, the con artist financiers of Wall Street as "less great" than people in their heyday did.


Heroes? A pet peeve of mine that America is diligently following in the path of Germans in WWI and WWII, naming just about anyone and anything "heroic".
Actually, we are worse than the Germans, because we have set the bar for being a hero even lower than All People in Uniform are Heroes and All People that make heroe's sausages for the brave heroes including heroic frontline dogs , keeping Germany safe, are heroes as well.
In America, we have lowered the bar to make all Victims and protestors heroes. Not just conferring hero-hood on all in uniform, but extending that to all teachers! All gay people! Anyone hurt by a bomb, or if dead, their Hero Victim Family.
All the "rape-survivors" or Greens that use 30% less evil carbon are heroes. Any loud, noisy person demanding more free goodies for themselves or "their people!" are Heroes.
We also emulate the Soviet take on German Hero Propaganda (All comrades at shoe factory #11!! For exceeding the 5-year plan - You are true Stakhovites and heroes that will be given pins declaring you heroes! Pravda will list your names in the rolls of Heroes of 1951!! )

Dante said...

You see the blandness in recent news. The basketball player saying "Hey, I'm Gay!" He was a scumbag. He tied up a young woman for 8 years using her as a shield for his homosexuality. Think about it. She may never have kids, and she could have been making some heterosexual happy with her long legs.

How many times have I read "It's a bold step to [spend more money we don't have]." "It's a bold step to stand up for [the latest anti-freedom laws for minorities.]"

It's not bold, it's trite. It's not liberal, it's conservative. It's not putting anyone's skin in the game except future society. yet, we are brainwashed by small minds into thinking it's so wonderful, that it's progress, when in fact the latest bold action weakens the state, and ironically removes freedom.

Æthelflæd said...

I believe it is driven by extreme egalitarianism and PC speech codes which make it difficult for people with great ability and something worth saying to survive long in politics.

Oso Negro said...

I think it comes down to this: if things break our way in the future, we will scour the records to find the people who stood in the breach at the moments that things mattered and declare them "great".

Salamandyr said...

If I understand the qualities of greatness, we're talking a largeness of character that matches or exceeds the trials of the times.

I'll throw out there that I think George W. Bush had moments of greatness. I think Bill Clinton could have been great, but had the "misfortune" to lead in times that did not demand greatness.

I don't think our current President has the qualities necessary to be great. He has not even risen to the relatively small challenges he has faced.

Bender said...

It is the tyranny of relativism.

When there is no longer objective truth, when there are no longer objective standards, then there can be no concept of "greatness." When greatness is subject to ever-changing definitions, when what was crap yesterday is suddenly proclaimed to be great today, when everything is capable of being called great, then nothing is great.

There is no more greatness, no more beauty.

Michael said...

I would look at a Clarence Thomas as verging on greatness: someone who has overcome much, is genuinely humble and honest and who inspires without preening. McCain could have been great but has come back to earth on the wings of vanity

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

We don't need greatness. At this point, competent would be nice.

Æthelflæd said...

virgil xenophon - While yelevision may have exarcerbated the problem, the people have always preferred their leaders to be tall and handsome. George Washington was 6'4. King Saul was chosen by God, but loved by the people, until another handsome young man replaced him: "And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people."

Colonel Angus said...

The basketball player saying "Hey, I'm Gay!" He was a scumbag. He tied up a young woman for 8 years using her as a shield for his homosexuality.

Which you would think would have women screaming bloody murder but instead we are lectured on his bravery.

Women would do well to keep in mind where they fall in the pecking order of the leftwing agenda.

Æthelflæd said...

"yelevision" - a fortuitous typo.

Æthelflæd said...

"Women would do well to keep in mind where they fall in the pecking order of the leftwing agenda."

Some of the worst misogynists in the world dwell in the tents of progressivism.

Æthelflæd said...

Michael said...
"I would look at a Clarence Thomas as verging on greatness: someone who has overcome much, is genuinely humble and honest and who inspires without preening." Include Ben Carson, and you see a pattern emerging.

Chuck66 said...

"...and the current President whose main accomplishment is that he makes white people feel good about themselves."

I had a weekend retail job, working with rather liberal people. I didn't come out as a conservative/libertarian. But this allowed me to observe the educated, nice liberal. What goes on in their minds? I came to that conclusion. They view the US as a nasty racist nation with a bad past. By electing a man who has dark hue to his skin, it makes up for all the evil the US has done.

Chuck66 said...

What makes someone great? Coming out of nothing, and creating/earning your accomplishments.

Clarence Thomas. Ronald Reagan. John Bolton. Bill Clinton could have been if he wasn't such as horney self-centered hillbilly.

AReasonableMan said...

Cedarford, your disparagement of Jobs is somewhat unfounded. Read this article and weep. It was the US that failed Jobs not Jobs failing the US. The decline of US technological expertise is catastrophic. The constant hand wringing over the ME is a complete distraction from our real problems. Because our political leaders have no background in science and technology they seem blind to what is ultimately going to doom us as a world power.

Colonel Angus said...

They view the US as a nasty racist nation with a bad past. By electing a man who has dark hue to his skin, it makes up for all the evil the US has done.

I don't think its much of a reach to conclude that an awful lot of white voters viewed his election and re-election as political baptism for the original sin of slavery and Jim Crow.

Because they certainly could not have elected him on his qualifications or re-elected him on achivement.

Achilles said...

There are great people all over the place. It used to be we venerated war heroes and true public servants like doctors who find a new cure or fire fighters. Those people are still around. They still do great things.

What has changed is who is in charge of our popular culture. Progressives hate greatness. They have started with the public education system and ruined it. Now the only way to get on TV is to say you are gay or to "lose" your "secret" sex tape. Progressives hate the people that excel and try to destroy them when they don't ignore them. They particularly hate true altruism and venerate selfishness and vanity. The sheeple and their leaders are merely a reflection of this.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt,

Ever heard of the Achievement Gap? Looked at the graduation rates by race? Listened to these guys speak?

Just because one desperately doesn't want something to be true, doesn't mean it isn't.


Look, the people you are talking about aren't graduating because they're being drafted into the NBA as sophomores. You have no frickin' idea whether they could graduate if they'd not been hired for extremely lucrative work not halfway through their college term.

AReasonableMan said...

It is interesting that Althouse focuses on lawmakers as where we should find greatness. This is such a myopic view of what makes a person or a country great.

Diamondhead said...

Celebrity has taken the place of greatness. Norman Borlaug saved a billion lives? That's nice. Now, what is Lindsay Lohan up to these days?

Colonel Angus said...

Because our political leaders have no background in science and technology they seem blind to what is ultimately going to doom us as a world power.

Considering the fact that many of the influencial people in Obama's life, his father, Rev. Wright, Bill Ayres, openly despised the United States, this might be a feature rather than a bug.

Lem said...

Tom Brokaw

Achilles said...

AReasonableMan said...
"Cedarford, your disparagement of Jobs is somewhat unfounded. Read this article and weep. It was the US that failed Jobs not Jobs failing the US. The decline of US technological expertise is catastrophic. The constant hand wringing over the ME is a complete distraction from our real problems. Because our political leaders have no background in science and technology they seem blind to what is ultimately going to doom us as a world power."

We have ridiculous tax codes and regulation structures to thank for fleeing technology production. We have a ridiculous public education system to thank for the lack of emphasis on math and science. We have more performing arts graduates than math, chemistry, physics and biology majors combined. Progressives have done all of this.

Cedarford said...

Nonapod - Whether it's by saving millions from starvation like Norman Borlaug, performing heroic life saving actions in battle like MOH recipients, helping save people from the horrors of genicide as recipients of Israels Righteous Among the Nations honor have done, or simply effected peoples everyday lives for the better like Steve Jobs.

I think the problem isn't that there aren't Great Men out there, it's that we fail to recognize real greatness any more.


1. Borlaug is a reflection of how we seek to take the efforts of thousands of Americans, Mexicans, and Filipinos that did the Green Revolution work and put it all as the product of One Great Man. Most great historical accomplishments are collective acts involving many people. Borlaug was a great man, but we diss the others only honoring him.

2. Steve Jobs - I think there will be less adulation as more people realize during his heading Apple, he transferred most jobs overseas and 40% of the wealth created to foreign investors.

3. A MOH is no be all and end all for how future people will see "heroes at work". Sometimes they can be political - like with the SEAL Commander that lost control of a mission and led his men into ambush, heroically died screaming for a rescue helicopter, which arrived and was shot down, killing another 18 spec ops people. It was a fiasco - which like many fiascos, militaries in most countries address by awarding medals.
And many MOHs go to indoctrinated soldiers who decide to "take one for the team" in a split second - flopping on a grenade.
What sort of MOH do indoctrinated Jihadis "taking one for the team" spending hours of sustained bravery to get their suicide bomb close to the enemy merit? Or Japanese kamikaze pilots?

4. Saving people from slaughter, hyped up genocide accusations on behalf of Israel - being the world's free 911 Service - is neocon thought at it's stupidest. We long ago could not afford the dozens of wars America has entered since WWII, and we no longer have the veneer that it was just proxy stuff to defeat the Soviet Union without a direct war with nuclear Russia. Now it is about saving Noble Freedom Lovers from themselves.
Same with the charge there is nothing worse than a leader like Lincoln or Mao that "kills his own people" and compells us to intervene to "save the Marsh Arabs" , save the Noble Congolese or Syrians.
Generally, it is far better for the world if a tyrant or junta elevated by the majority of the masses or through their acquiescence - confines themselves to only killing their own people than going across borders and killing masses of other people.
The Jap militarists were odious creatures that killed their own people...but only became a real threat to the world when they started in on killing Chinese, then any land past that they invaded.

Achilles said...

AReasonableMan said...
"It is interesting that Althouse focuses on lawmakers as where we should find greatness. This is such a myopic view of what makes a person or a country great."

5/3/13, 11:03 AM

This is impossible when the government picks winners and losers. A massive corporate income tax, highest in the world, that can only be mitigated by getting loopholes worked in for you by lobbyists. Thousands of new regulations every year. An EPA with top execs that use private email accounts to hide their official business and make special deals.

Obama has set up a system for rewarding cronies and punishing innovation. Forcing the people to look to the progressive elite is the desired result.

carrie said...

I think that Mitt Romney had greatness or at least greatness potential. However, our society doesn't value greatness as much as it values political correctness. When political correctness is your main value, then you end up with the leaders that we have today. As far as I can tell, Obama is politically correct but he is not driven, passionate, a visionary, or a true believer in anything so how can he be great?

carrie said...

I think that Mitt Romney had greatness or at least greatness potential. However, our society doesn't value greatness as much as it values political correctness. When political correctness is your main value, then you end up with the leaders that we have today. As far as I can tell, Obama is politically correct but he is not driven, passionate, a visionary, or a true believer in anything so how can he be great?

JAL said...

On Insty the other day I followed a link to advice from Calvin Coolidge for Barack Obama ... mmmm here it is.

I sent the link that day to a friend who used to work in the Navy Department in D.C. and asked him "Where are these men?"

Where are these men today?

Barack Obama, the whiney, superficial AA hire is clearly not in the same league.

rhhardin said...

Women's vote.

JAL said...

I mean -- for all the supposedly soaring speeches he wrote / read -- the language structure of Obama's sentences is ninth grade.

AJ Lynch said...

Good and bold ideas make good policy which makes for greatness. When is the last time our so-called leaders had a good and bold idea?

Tank said...

JAL

Respectfully,

1. I think you're overestimating most 9th graders.

2. That level is probably at the upper limit for speaking to the general public.

rhhardin said...

If you list the great women in history, who are you left with besides Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Lady Godiva, Lucrezia Borgia, Madame du Barry, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I and Philip the Sap?

stengle said...

Could it be that the world today overuses the word 'great'? So many things are great now even when they are at best passable and in some cases distinctly lacking.

All sports events, for example, are littered with great moments, great characters, and yet they are all largely forgettable. Even the most rabid of fan would be hard-pressed five years later to recall how great it all was.

The ones who did the most, those who may have leaned towards greatness in some way, actually did what they could in the face of huge difficulties or overcame barriers in front of them. They didn't do things for the idea of being 'great' or to earn that label, because in many cases doing what they did was the only way they could stay alive or keep going.

Great can be applied later; the fact we apply it so often and so lightly reflects more on us all.

Amartel said...

People don't like or trust greatness. It reminds them they're not great.
+
People think our leader is great. Celebrities are great!
+
Who wants to be "great" in this day and age. It's a lot of work and there's no future in it.

Cedarford said...

Areasonableman - Cedarford, your disparagement of Jobs is somewhat unfounded. Read this article and weep. It was the US that failed Jobs not Jobs failing the US. The decline of US technological expertise is catastrophic. The constant hand wringing over the ME is a complete distraction from our real problems.

It wasn't China's superior technology that made Steve Jobs mouth water. It was the ability to close down US Apple lines toss US unskilled and semiskilled workers out - and transfer that technology to China, so his stuff could be made by unskilled Chinese from the countryside with grade school educations. Chinese paid 8 dollars a day, trained to semiskilled tasks, living by the thousands in "company barracks". Later, naturally the Chinese wanted the skilled engineering and quality control and logistics positions. Recognizing that, part of the deal was Apple would support student visas to America to train Chinese to train Chinese to totally run the Apple industries inside China within 15 years.
That happened.

Jobs is just another off-shorer. No different than GE closing most its US factories and transferring technology to cheaper Asian R&D centers.

YOu are right that we have been so blinded by our "Heroes fighting Heroic Wars of Choice" that we fail to see the real threat to the US of a global labor pool and unfettered free trade.
It is not about "dang regulations or danged unions tripping up our heroic John Galt CEOs and investment bankers".
Its an 8 dollar a day worker that America John Galts salivate over. Sure, most of them recognize without wealth creation here, eventually the US will be so crippled it cannot buy Chinastuff on debt. But most of them could care less. They are only focused on the short term...and hope a decayed, jobless America is going to happen long after their day of grabbing all they can get.

JAL said...

@ browndog On any given day you can visit Yahoo.com, the home page, and see who is on the "national stage".

Surfing this morning (at the beach ,but on the net) and commented to noone in particuar in the room "I know I am reading this, but really ... who cares what Kanye thinks about [some date] and why am I supposed to care about what Lindsey Lohan is doing these days?"

And the respondents said -- "Well -- you are reading it...."

But why it it the lead off on HuffPo -- or what is trending on yahoo or flashing us pain or teeth from the check out line?

We lived overseas in the 70s and when we got back after 4 years I was stunned to find that PEOPLE magazine was popular and that apparently people thought that movie celebrities had anything worthwhile to say about the world.

Still amazes me.

And hopefully the common sense people in this country and bring the ship around.

Dante said...

Another thought to consider. What would a great person do? Well, perhaps they would staunch terrorism. Given the paucity of real attacks in the US, perhaps Bush deserves some credit, though domestically the fox ate the hens while he was doing it (or, was it Cheney?)

Or perhaps a great person would get the country back on its economic feet. But that conflicts with redistribution, keeping people on Welfare, and getting votes.

Or perhaps a great person would reverse the flow on all this anti-family stuff that's going on (note, I don't see the relationship between gay marriage and destruction of the family).

Or figure out how to assimilate all these illegals and their progeny into mainstream society.

Or figure out how to get America to view real science as valuable again.

I think these last are simply too hard. The river is flowing very fast, as we cannibalize our social mores, and the wealth we have built up. The bill is going to be really high to pay, but so long as others will continue to give us a push by sending us their money, it won't stop.

Everyone feels they are worth more than what they get, even people who produce nothing and are on welfare.

cold pizza said...

Everyone lives in a fishbowl now. Anyone who poses the slightest threat to the regime gets crucified, every little flaw maginified to provoke public outrage. The mighty must fall if not blessed with the MSM seal of approval.

For example, I still greatly admire and deeply respect Gen Patraeus as a leader and soldier. While I never worked for him directly, I've worked with many other high ranking military officers and you can learn a lot by how their subordinates speak about them in private.

I have a neighbor who started a business from scratch 12 years ago and is now an industry recognized expert in his speciality. He is a devoted family man and takes care of his employees both stateside and overseas and I've seen him in his workshop getting his hands dirty at the machinery along side his employees.

If we're looking for a Solon or Washington, well, it's hard to get ahead of the mob today when there are so many cheerleaders for the mob and the.. oh, look, squirrel!

-CP

rhhardin said...

Everybody lives in a dishbowl today.

Ann Althouse said...

"It is interesting that Althouse focuses on lawmakers as where we should find greatness. This is such a myopic view of what makes a person or a country great."

It's interesting that you read this post that way, when neither Collins nor Kurtz nor Brown are lawmakers.

Rusty said...

AReasonableMan said...
"Cedarford, your disparagement of Jobs is somewhat unfounded. Read this article and weep. It was the US that failed Jobs not Jobs failing the US. The decline of US technological expertise is catastrophic.


Again. Why do you suppose that is?

Clyde said...

Colonel Angus said...

I don't think its much of a reach to conclude that an awful lot of white voters viewed his election and re-election as political baptism for the original sin of slavery and Jim Crow.

Not baptism so much as atonement through suffering for their sins. Obama is their hair-shirt, the flail which flagellates their portfolios, the crown of thorns for our national economy.

21st Century American liberals have more in common with 14th Century flagellants than one might think.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rhhardin,

If you list the great women in history, who are you left with besides Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Lady Godiva, Lucrezia Borgia, Madame du Barry, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I and Philip the Sap?

Oh, use your imagination. Or go read something. Joan of Arc. Queen Christina of Sweden. The Empress Maria Theresa. St. Clare. Hildegard von Bingen. Queen Victoria. Florence Nightingale. Marie Curie. And (dare I say it?) Dame Thatcher.

AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
It's interesting that you read this post that way, when neither Collins nor Kurtz nor Brown are lawmakers

Reread your post. Then, take a long look at the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraphs.

JAL said...

"and bring the ship around."

can bring the ship around.

Bruce Hayden said...

Progressives hate greatness.

I think that may because there is not much of a line between socialism and progressivism, as both are essentially communitarian, and that celebrates the community, and not the individual.

As for Bush (43) - he did have streaks of greatness, such as him at Ground Zero, or in backing the surge. Imagine how much worse Obama would have done - instead of it being about those who died and the American people who had been violated, he would have turned it into something about himself.

And, yes, I think that Romney was near-great, and may have been great, if he had won. A truly good man, who was willing to do the right thing for the country. I think that if he had won, his greatness might have been more like Margaret Thather's in getting the huge regulatory state under control.

Obama cannot be great, because he cannot lead. He has never really done so, and seems temperamentally opposed to even attempting it, much preferring leading from behind. Sure, Ike could do it, but he was an organizational genius, and was instrumental in winning the war in Europe because of that genius. And, even then, he wouldn't be considered by most to have been a great President. Good maybe, but not great.

AllenS said...

... and the last paragraph.

AReasonableMan said...

Cedarford said...
Jobs is just another off-shorer.


This sells him short. He was technology visionary and a brilliant salesman. His increasing reliance on offshore manufacturing was required to maintain parity with competitors.

The larger problem, which you allude to, and was clear in the linked article is that our technology leadership has been largely eroded.

Freeman Hunt said...

I thought greatness was something people saw only well after the fact.

CWJ said...

Some of this lack of greatness is no more than perception. Greatness is rare. We wish it weren't, but that is so. In order to get more of it, the underlying culture has to at least not inhibit its incubation. That's where western civilisation including us has run out of steam and allowed the easy "A" to supplant the well earned "B."

In our collective concerns, praises and incentives, we now see the triumph of the grasshopper over the ant. The substitution of feeling good over the much harder actually doing good. Only cultures that have built up a sufficient reserve of capital can afford to address first world problems.

We have gone from investing to culturally, intellectually, and physically grow our civilisation to first living off the interest (the "successful" doom masking period of socialism) to then burning through the principal, to borrowing against the future.

We are burning the furniture, eating the seed corn.

In such selfish shallow times, greatness does not so much exist as it must be emotionally manufactured.

EMD said...

Or figure out how to get America to view real science as valuable again.

Not to worry, Kal Penn is all over this.

Sigivald said...

Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?

Why should they be otherwise?

"Greatness" doesn't necessarily mean seeking media attention.

(I'd be sorely tempted to argue that greatness should ideally mean actively avoiding political power, and perhaps also media attention.)

Ignore the media. Problem solved.

EMD said...

CWJ FTW

EMD said...

"I wonder if Dr. Carson wrote his own speech?"

phx said...

He seems like a good person — to some people, the ones who feel comfortable enough with him because at least he's not Bush, he's got a nice smile that reminds us of hope and Republicans seem mean, and it's not really his fault that there are so many problems.

There are conservatives who demonize Obama voters, and there are conservatives who infantalize Obama voters.

At this point, what difference does it make?

EMD said...

Robert Downey, Jr. is alive and well, people!

EMD said...

There are conservatives who demonize Obama voters, and there are conservatives who infantalize Obama voters.

This is true on both sides, so it is irrelevant to the discussion. However. Let's be honest ... has Obama really exuded "Greatness" during his tenure?

AReasonableMan said...

AllenS said...
Ann Althouse said...
It's interesting that you read this post that way, when neither Collins nor Kurtz nor Brown are lawmakers

Reread your post. Then, take a long look at the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraphs.


I assume no one seriously believes that either Kurtz or Collins are the standard bearers of this nations greatness.

EMD said...

I assume no one seriously believes that either Kurtz or Collins are the standard bearers of this nations greatness.

Certainly not, but I think she's framed the discussion in terms of who the media (and society?) talk about.

Æthelflæd said...

Michelle Dulak Thomson said... rhhardin,


"Oh, use your imagination. Or go read something. Joan of Arc. Queen Christina of Sweden. The Empress Maria Theresa. St. Clare. Hildegard von Bingen. Queen Victoria. Florence Nightingale. Marie Curie. And (dare I say it?) Dame Thatcher."

Add the Empresses Theodora and Irene for good measure. Jeanne d'Albret, too.

Big Mike said...

We have one President whose main accomplishment is his dad was president ...

The individual you are thinking of was also the extremely successful governor of a major state (Texas) with a history of bipartisan reaching across the aisle to get popular legislation passed. Of course that was before he ran into Nancy Pelosi.

AReasonableMan said...

EMD said...
I assume no one seriously believes that either Kurtz or Collins are the standard bearers of this nations greatness.

Certainly not, but I think she's framed the discussion in terms of who the media (and society?) talk about.


At best it is a confused post since who society talks about and who it thinks might be great are largely non-overlapping sets.

EMD said...

At best it is a confused post since who society talks about and who it thinks might be great are largely non-overlapping sets.

In a way. But she did say "on the national stage," which presumes notoriety of some sort.

EMD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

To me greatness as a President is the ability to re-mold America into something different at the end of 8 years then when you began. Since Obama is doing precisely that, he's great.

Alex said...

Of course Obama didn't initiate the charge into socialism, he simply made it cool to the younger generation. By any latest polling 80% of 20-somethings support Obama and would vote for him again and again.

Alex said...

But let's be real, Steve Jobs was truly great. HE changed the way we compute.

Roger J. said...

Alex--in your analysis above, does it make any difference that the change is good or bad? Or is all that is required is simply "remolding."

Rabel said...

"Great crises produce great men, and great deeds of courage."

- JFK's ghostwriter.

Our slow motion economic decline and petty battles against Islamic extremism don't rise to the level of "great crises."

They will, eventually. Hopefully JFK's prediction will hold true.

And what Lucien said at 9:34.

Alex said...

Roger - it's irrelevant about the moral value of the change. What defines greatness is the ability to change the way we do things. Look at how Obama has made gay marriage mainstream. The way universal health care is now not even debatable. He changed the national discussion on these things.

AReasonableMan said...

Rusty said...
AReasonableMan said...
"Cedarford, your disparagement of Jobs is somewhat unfounded. Read this article and weep. It was the US that failed Jobs not Jobs failing the US. The decline of US technological expertise is catastrophic.


Again. Why do you suppose that is?


Good technology requires integration from the shop floor to the design studio. I think the model for western countries and technology has become Germany where they have a relatively flat wage structure and workers and management are equally well regarded. Mutual respect rather than a winner takes all mentality is important. It existed in the 1940 and 50's, at least amongst white males, but has now almost completely eroded.

The other problem is misallocation of intellectual and financial resources into the financial and health care industries.

Drago said...

Bruce: "Sure, Ike could do it, but he was an organizational genius, and was instrumental in winning the war in Europe because of that genius. And, even then, he wouldn't be considered by most to have been a great President. Good maybe, but not great."

Ike was not an organizational genius. He was very competent in organizational oversight. More importantly, he was an outstanding military "politician" in that he worked well with our allies and up the US command structure.

That was Ike's strength.

Napoleon was a military organization genius. His military structures formed the basis of much of what has been developed since.

Henry said...

Thomas Edison futzed around with magnetic mining technology for years. 100 years ago Edison was considered a great man, the peerless inventor, a role model for ambitious children. Nowadays he'd be ridiculed for futzing around with magnetic mining machines. And despoiling the planet.

Dante said...

Well, where do people think these politicians come from?

Here in CA they come from the public employee unions, often.

And Obama came from minorities: Hispanics, Women, Blacks, and the very wealthy.

This is what happens when you have an anti-American press, and people figuring out how to profit from the decline.

Roger J. said...

Interesting discussion--was Genghis Khan a great man? Or Isaac Newton? It seems to me unless we specify our criteria for "greatness," the ascription of greatness to an individual will end up being a personal judgment (although historians, will of course, put their oars in the water).

Alex said...

Roger - obviously conquerors and scientific inventors fall into that category of greatness. Alexander the Great was aptly named for spreading Hellenism across the Middle East.

Dante said...

There are conservatives who demonize Obama voters, and there are conservatives who infantalize Obama voters.

I think of Obama voters more like lemmings, destroying crops on their long rush to the sea.

Mark Nielsen said...

I can't believe we've got this many comments and so far only one mention of Ronald Reagan. I'm not certain he will go down as "great", but he'd be (in my opinion) the most likely of the characters who've crossed our stage in my lifetime.

I remember on 9-11 while glued to the TV watching coverage of what was unfolding, one of the networks ran an old clip that featured Reagan -- I don't even remember why. What I *do* remember is the powerful instinctive emotion I had at just seeing his image on that day, wishing that somehow we could have his leadership at that moment.

Baron Zemo said...

There plenty of great Americans.

Elmore Leonard. Derek Jeter. Snooki. Honey Boo Boo.

It is just that none of them are politicians.

Alex said...

More great Americans are the ones who invented the transistor, integrated circuit, microprocessor, operating system, networking protocols, display technology, input devices, touchscreens.

Robert Cook said...

Just hearing comments that "Romney was a great man" or that "we are living in tranquil times" is disheartening and perfectly proves Carlin's point. That Americans can display such ignorance of the reality of the now--an ignorance so extreme it constitutes delusion--explains why we continue voting for people to represent us who manifestly don't, who are glad-handing, back-stabbing, buck-stealing corporate whores...and Presidents who are would-be "Dexters": serial murderers--serial mass murderers--who are "ok" because, you know, "they only murder 'bad guys'"(sic).

Jay said...

I'm not sure how offshoring is some sort of criticism of Steve Jobs.

Jobs had greatness, without a doubt.

Robert Cook said...

"Look at how Obama has made gay marriage mainstream."

Obama had not thing one to do with this.

"The way universal health care is now not even debatable."

I'm not sure how you even mean this: it's not debatable because it's a foregone conclusion or because he has poisoned the waters for it through his wretched, corporate-friendly sell-out-to-the-insurers policy?

Richard Dolan said...

The "category of greatness."

Did you forget that it takes a village? And, no, Mr. Jobs, you didn't invent that device, or create that business yourself. Just ask the One, or if you prefer the woman who is about to be elected the next president by national acclamation.

If it's greatness you want, you might as well go with the biggest village we have: NYC, as the Father of All Who Claim To be Great. There is even a walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with the names of all the greats who came from that specially hallowed part of the Father.

Æthelflæd said...

Roger J -

A Great Man is not necessarily a Good Man. More often than not, he's not.

Original Mike said...

"Is Barack Obama a great man? He's reached the top position. That takes some doing."

All it seems to have taken is voting "Present". Talk about "Fuck Hope".

Robert Cook said...

"And, no, Mr. Jobs, you didn't invent that device, or create that business yourself."

That's true...he didn't!

Balfegor said...

Re: Alex:

Roger - it's irrelevant about the moral value of the change. What defines greatness is the ability to change the way we do things. Look at how Obama has made gay marriage mainstream. The way universal health care is now not even debatable. He changed the national discussion on these things.

Wait, are you supporting Obama as a great man or belittling him ironically? He has achieved neither of the two things you're pointing to . . .

Christy said...

"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another." Mal to Jayne in the Jaynestown episode of Firefly. Do I have most of the dialogue of Firefly memorized? Why, yes. Yes I do. Because Joss Whedon is great.

You know who else was great? Assurbanipal. Dude fought lions with only bladed weapons. Could read and write in two languages. Collected a huge library of history, medicine, science, and religion. He also put a dog chain through the jaw of a defeated king and kept him in a kennel. He dined beside the head of another. The most cultured and brutal man of many ages, maybe ever.

Amartel said...

"To me greatness as a President is the ability to re-mold America into something different at the end of 8 years then when you began. Since Obama is doing precisely that, he's great."

First, this presumes that Obama is actually actively doing anything other than facilitating West Wing fanboy wet dreams. Re-molding America .. AS IF. We've done that to ourselves. Second, if this is the measure then wouldn't other Presidents qualify as "great" since America was different after 4years of their tenure in office?

Oh, did you mean, Obama is great because what his followers claim he's doing is a measure of greatness and therefore he is great because circular reasoning?

Ya great silly slanted light blue windowpain.

Alex said...

Obama also ushered in hi-tech as a key part of winning a campaign. The first Facebook/Twitter President.

From Inwood said...

lemondog said it best.

Paraphrase: A statesman is a dead politician

Amartel said...

"The first Facebook/Twitter President"

Oh, well, when you put it that way. Great.

Cedarford said...

Jay said...
I'm not sure how offshoring is some sort of criticism of Steve Jobs.
=====================

Jobs had greatness, without a doubt.

====================
The metric by which past business leaders attained "greatness" was not by offshoring 95% of their workforce to foreign labor so citizens of near-bankrupt states could marvel at "cool Mexican made cars" or "cool Chinese made electronic toys we can share our love for Obama on" or "He wisely destroyed all American R&D jobs at his company to advantage institutional investors return by using cheaper Indian PhDs."

The past metric was something like this:

"Irving Shapiro guided Dupont's success - he made America better. His time at CEO led to opening 18 new US factories, creating 23,000 new jobs
in towns where unemployment was once at 40% in the Depression. Through Dupont and its workers wealth created, 52 new schools and 3 universities opened their doors. Shapiro was a great CEO for our country."

"The great leaders of Bechtel built the Hoover dam on time and under budget. They only gave jobs to US citizens, helping countless American families."

"The Ketterling family refused to sell US timber on lands they owned - to overseas businesses to make value-added goods. They insisted that the Oregon timber go to US lumberyards, plywood factories, and furniture companies."

"Sloan and other leaders at GM stood up to the banks and demanded the banks sacrifice as well in retooling GM plants for war production. They said all had to sacrifice, because the only way capitalism would prosper is if it benefited the average worker and citizen and all did their patriotic duty".

AReasonableMan said...

Cedarford, you are right. The problem is that if Jobs had behaved as you suggest Apple would now have no American jobs. Steve Jobs was not great enough to rise above his times, but that is a pretty high level criticism.

Jay said...

Cedarford said...
The metric by which past business leaders attained "greatness" was not by offshoring 95% of their workforce to foreign labor so citizens of near-bankrupt states could marvel at "cool Mexican made cars" or "cool Chinese made electronic toys we can share our love for Obama on"


You seem to be confused.

Apple has more US employees than foreign employees.

Jobs had greatness, no matter how much shit you make up about him.

furious_a said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Christy,

What I find baffling is that Mal and "Firefly" in general is libertarian yet Joss Whedon is definitely not. I find it interesting that he made that show yet, in real life, he sides with the Alliance.

Jay said...

rving Shapiro guided Dupont's success - he made America better. His time at CEO led to opening 18 new US factories, creating 23,000 new jobs

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States

*I should clarify: the Apple plants overseas hire contractors. Which outnumber US employees.

Joe Schmoe said...

I wish I could say that our veneration of a particular type of common man (and woman), the veneration that is so popular amongst our modern literature and television, and which takes the form of identifying and empathizing with each labor of minutia and tedium that makes up this real or imagined person's existence, is a result of our recognition that the potential to perform great acts lies within each of us, and that we don't need 'great' men or women to lead us because we will know when we are required to do great things, and we will do them.

But I'm afraid it's not that. It is more or less consistent with the era of postmodernism in which we live, and which will be more obvious when viewed from several decades hence. We do it not so much to construct a new heroic archetype as much as we wish to deconstruct the classical notion of heroicism and stoicism. The adored of today are antithetical to generally-accepted cross-cultural norms for what is considered great; their gravitas is lighter than a sparrow's bone, hence the rapidity with which we blow through our dalliances with the great person du jour.

Jay said...

"Sloan and other leaders at GM stood up to the banks and demanded the banks sacrifice as well in retooling GM plants for war production. They said all had to sacrifice, because the only way capitalism would prosper is if it benefited the average worker and citizen and all did their patriotic dut

WTF is this supposed to mean?

You want World War III?

How did this all turnout for GM who robbed the treasury of $15 billion recently?

furious_a said...

"Why are the figures on our national stage so lacking in greatness?"

...because we don't have the luxury of distance over time from which to view them. All the current-day famous people are real-time, wall-to-wall, 24.x7. All the greats (Lincoln with his depression, JFK with his pain meds, Ike and FDR and Bobby with their mistresses, LBJ with his, well, pick one) -- they're long gone, and their flaws are dead and buried with them.

We also rush to immortalize people nowadays (naming aircraft carriers [Forrestal, Reagan], major streets [Pete Rose Way, George Bush Freeway], stadiums [Darryl Royal]) before they've actually, you know, passed away. Not enought time in between to process their memory and gain some perspective.

Alex said...

I do consider industrialists to be great. Henry Ford, Harley Earl, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg.

Joe Schmoe said...

The past metric was something like this:

Or as now referred to in the faculty lounges of secondary institutions across the country:

"When White Men Ran Amok and Subjugated Women and Minorities to All Their Vagaries and Whims"

which spawned the sequel:

"How to Invert the Establishment White Power Structure and Subjugate White Men to All Our Vagaries and Whims"

creeley23 said...

As to Carlin -- the man was a great comedian of ideas, but to him Americans have always been a selfish, ignorant people who suck.

Yet Americans today, especially those with the greatest influence, i.e. in the media, universities and the arts, have moved much more towards Carlin's counter-cultural values. One might think we would suck somewhat less, but apparently not.

When I was younger, I enjoyed Carlin. He did have new ideas and fresh humor. But as I got older, even before I became conservative, I began to shy away from him, as he became progressively more misanthropic, and certainly America-hating.

Christy said...

Matt, Whedon's politics befuddled me, too. I've decided he's a secret libertarian who wants to run with the cool kids of Hollywood and knows they are too dumb to understand the themes of his work. Rather like American Idol contestants who don't understand the lyrics.

Kirk Parker said...

MDT,

"Dare you" say Thatcher? On the contrary, how could you possibly dare to leave her out?

Michael K said...

" MayBee said...
Mitt Romney was pretty darn close to being A Great Man.."

I'm with you there 100%. Had he been elected, he would have known what to do to turn the economy around and in foreign policy, he and Netanyahu were probably the best prepared men to solve the middle east crisis that is coming we have seen in decades.

Instead, Romney was pulled down by midgets like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver.

This is an unserious age we live in and Obama is the epitome of it. The least accomplished man ever to be elected President. The only worse president who comes to mind is Buchanan who was shifting Union military supplies south in the run up to the Civil War. We were very lucky then to have Lincoln, Grant and Sherman. Our luck has run out.

ggonzalez said...

It's not just the U.S. Consider that a mere decade ago Angela Merkel was among Europe's least charismatic leaders. Today's she is its most authoritative leaders. And it is not she who has changed.

Michael K said...

"Good technology requires integration from the shop floor to the design studio. I think the model for western countries and technology has become Germany where they have a relatively flat wage structure and workers and management are equally well regarded. Mutual respect rather than a winner takes all mentality is important. It existed in the 1940 and 50's, at least amongst white males, but has now almost completely eroded."

This is still true. I have worked with a few medical innovators and they all have technical skills. The problem is that, with the money printing press we have now, innovation is a distant second to skill in manipulating money. In the 1950s, Ford Motor nearly failed because it got into the hands of the "money men" who saw more profit in manipulating money than building cars. Lee Iacocca came along and Ford rebounded with good cars. Then he was eased out.

Why was he eased out ? He wanted to build a car like the present day minivan. The money guys said it would never sell.

JAL said...

Let's be honest ... has Obama really exuded "Greatness" during his tenure?

But but but

He's a NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER !!!11!!!11!11!

Alex said...

Michael - these days someone with industrial design skills that can operate a lathe machine to show how you can make a new electronic device chassis is all the rage.

AReasonableMan said...

ggonzalez said...
It's not just the U.S. Consider that a mere decade ago Angela Merkel was among Europe's least charismatic leaders. Today's she is its most authoritative leaders. And it is not she who has changed.


It is the difference between an economy based on technical innovation in manufacturing and science and an economy built on finance (Britain), property bubbles (Spain) or low-tech luxury goods (Italy).

AReasonableMan said...

Alex said...
Michael - these days someone with industrial design skills that can operate a lathe machine to show how you can make a new electronic device chassis is all the rage.


This is true but primarily for small scale artisanal production, not the the kind of large scale manufacturing that creates jobs and national economic strength.

Mike Smith said...

As I see it, the problem is that no entirely sane person wants to put himself/herself and their family through what it takes to get elected these days.

So, the people who run are often people we wouldn't want to represent us.

kentuckyliz said...

Last great man? What about those kids who are doing genetic testing and experiments at home with grand aspirations?

The cream will rise to the top but you may not recognize it if you have your blinders on and are looking only for 1978 greatness.