Two names loom large in today's news. Two names that ordinarily we wouldn't think about together.
But, in the great struggle now unfolding before us for our nation's future, it seems to me these two quintessential Americans are worth thinking about in light of each other.
One is Steve Jobs.
The other is Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jobs, of course, is in the headlines because of his decision to step down and retire from Apple Computer, the company he co-founded, from which he later got fired, and to which he subsequently returned and resurrected.
Dr. King is in the news because of the opening of the King monument in Washington, D.C.
Other than being in the news at the same time, why might we think of these two very different Americans together?
I think they are icons of two essential but different and opposing aspects of American life. One is the individual and the other is our social reality.
It's these two aspects of American life, the dignity and potential of individuals living free, and the social reality, the rules by which we all agree to live and to which we all submit, that has always caused tension in American life. And this tension is becoming particularly acute today.
Jobs is, of course, the essence of what so many see what America is about. The rugged, free and creative individual. The intrepid entrepreneur.
His success story is a story of bucking the establishment and being his own man. As a college dropout, he and his colleague Steve Wozniak, with whom he started Apple, brought new technology to the American people that not only revolutionized our lives, but also caused the corporate giant that supposedly controlled the computer business, IBM, to change itself.
King, on the other hand, is about America's social reality. What are the rules we live by and what are the contours of the field of life on which rugged American individualists share and live their lives?
The American focus on the individual sometimes causes us to lose focus that man is a social creature as well as an individual. No man, in those famous words, is an island.
When 20-year-old Jobs labored in his garage, building the personal computer, he was building a product to serve others. And those whose lives he made so much better as result of his labor and creativity compensated him and made him a wealthy man.
As critical as it is for the individual human spirit to be free to create, that individual agrees to live with others by rules in a society that hopefully permits this to happen.
American history has been about the ongoing challenge of refining our understanding and acceptance of the eternal truths that enable men and women to live together freely and creatively.
Dr. King played a critical role in moving this nation along in this process. He helped the nation understand that these truths remained blurred if some, for bigoted reasons, could not participate and contribute. All suffer for the omission of even a few.
King pushed the nation to turn its eyes to the heavens so that truth might be perceived more clearly and, as result, our freedom enhanced.
This is our struggle in 2011. How do we understand the truths, the rules, by which we live better so that our social reality -- our laws and our government -- enhances rather than stifles our freedom and creativity?
And so we should also note that Jobs was born to a college student, an unwed mother, who put him up for adoption. It was 1955, some 18 years before Roe v Wade.
Let's us be thankful this young woman brought her child into the world. Where would we be today if not?
We still have many rules to fix.
As Elbert Guillory points out in his ad, despite all the big government, the economic state of affairs of low-income blacks has changed little over the years. (comments)
Beyond the overriding economic control that the federal government now has over citizens, federal courts now dictate our social norms. (comments)
The black unemployment rate in North Carolina is more than double that of whites. (comments)
American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced family. (comments)
Republicans should resist temptation to pander and point Hispanics in the direction of freedom and opportunity, what got them here in the first place. (comments)
Diversity should be about about recognizing "diversity of people's gifts, talents, and skills." (comments)
Low-income black parents need options, choices, for educating their children outside the public school monopoly. (comments)
Since Johnson, the government has spent $15 trillion dollars fighting poverty without reducing poverty. (comments)
What do successful, wealthy black entrepreneurs know that they are not sharing with their own? (comments)
In our president's take on the world, if there is a winner who winds up better off there must be a loser who winds up equally worse off. (comments)
The Tea Party captures a groundswell of dissatisfaction with business-as-usual in how our country is being run. (comments)
What kind of discussion can take place with those who equate a procedure in which one life is destroyed and another put at risk with going to the dentist? (comments)
In 20 years there will be no funds to pay one third of the benefits of retirees. (comments)
The growing percentage of our voters is not white and they largely vote for Democrats. (comments)
Free choice and private initiative seems to violate the religious convictions of liberals. (comments)
Why does America convey neutrality between a nation that is indisputably free and a government that is not? (comments)
In a Pew Research survey of last October, 25 percent of blacks expressed favorability toward the Tea Party, just 6 points less than whites. (comments)
Everyone, except the teachers unions, seems to grasp that public education in America, particularly in low-income communities, suffers because of lack of competition. (comments)
Mainstream means shrugging your shoulders at $17 trillion in federal debt, $4 trillion in federal spending, and a tax code of over 73,000 pages. (comments)
Cochran's agenda is to serve up government pork and protect the interests of his friends in Washington. (comments)