I was reading a Barron’s Online roundup of analyst likes and dislikes about the HP board selecting Meg Whitman as the new CEO to replace the disastrous Leo Apotheker (who lasted less than a year in the job) today and it got me to thinking about our nation’s situation and prospects. Analysts were concerned whether Meg Whitman, however capable she may be as an executive from her experience at eBay and at Hasbro (really!), had a vision for HP, a company far larger than eBay when Meg Whitman was still at the helm. Or particularly, a vision of hot HP can get its groove back.
It got me to thinking about companies that foundered after the founders left. HP certainly is a key example of a company that, when the founders were in control, was able to successfully navigate its way through many different challenges, whether the Depression (when it was founded) though WWII, the space age, and into the computing era. HP, a scientific instrument company at its start, became by the late eighties a significant player in the computing industry and a leader in calculators. The founders were able to guide the company through twists and turns, retaining their management principles along the way but being very flexible as reality in the original scientific marketplace evolved, ending up very much a consumer presence.
Southwest Airlines has managed to keep its ability to run cheaply (for the consumer) and profitably at the same time as it has aggressively expanded into markets that analysts would have thought impossible (La Guardia, Reagan, PHL) when its founder was still at the helm. The current management team retains the focus on low operating cost, high reliability, and focus on customers, but got away from considering itself as a second-tier airport company.
Everyone now wonders if Apple will succeed now that Steve Jobs is stepping down from the firm. It’s not a matter of whether the top people have the *same* vision as he did, but the same ability to keep their own vision evolving as smoothly as Steve Jobs kept his. Because change happens.
That all got me to thinking about our country and The Tea Party, who gripe and complain that We have lost the Founders’ Vision. A clique of largely better off, lighter colored, older, less happy people than the rest of us, for sure, for whom the problem is that we have deviated from the Founders’ original vision, as recorded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and on Sarah Palin’s palm in black sharpie.
How have we deviated? Well, it doesn’t really matter because the Tea Partiers are not, after all, all that familiar with the Founders or the two documents they talk about. I think the gut truth of the ‘deviation’ is that they don’t think the Founders would have countenanced a Kenyan Muslim President, and so they don’t either. Facts be damned. The rest–taxes and socialism and keeping government hands of Medicare–are just the window-dressing for their real gripe.
The nasty part of this is, for the other 75% of us, not just having to listen to talking heads on newstainment shows talk endlessly and breathlessly about Herb Cain (is Herb Caen spinning in his grave, by the way?) getting a victory over Rick Perry among a few thousand old cantankerous farts in Florida. One of these people *could* get elected, because the other thing we hear from newstainment is the refrain “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Which pretty much closes off any argument that more than half the country is smart enough to see that some short-term sacrifice might be necessary for long-term progress, I guess. So the fact that President Obama has done a grade C or D job in JOBS, means he is really, really unlikely to be re-elected, barring a miraculous 12-months ahead.
If only someone in the Tea Party would study some history, for real, and come to see that what made this country what it is, was never an unbending and strict adherence to what the Founders thought, it was having quite a few subsequent leaders who could think just as well or better than the Founders, and who could adapt the vision and the Founding Principles to new circumstances. The Industrial Revolution. Ending slavery. Trust-busting. New Deal. WWII. The Space Age.
It’s always the present; and things always change. I admire the Founders and the Constitution but it was written in a different society; one that was rural, separated from other countries so completely that today we can’t even imagine that kind of separation and difficulty of communication. The government-run monopoly Post Office, established in the Constitution (and now hated by Tea Partiers as a government waste), was the only means people had of communicating with anyone more than a few miles away.
If the vision for our country’s next era springs from the end of the eighteenth century with no accounting for our history since (ending slavery, taming corporate monopolies, becoming world leaders rather than isolationists) or for present advances in knowledge, we truly will dig a deep hole from coming generations. And don’t get me started if one of the candidates who claims to hear voices gets elected.