Isaacson: Apple’s future as a company was one of the things that a year ago Steve was obsessed about. He had gone in at the end of August to tell the board that he was stepping down as CEO. And everybody on the board is very sad, and then they try to jolly things up, and they talk about how Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) had just gotten out of the tablet business that day, was screwing things up, and he said something like, “Wait a minute. Bill Hewlett gave me my first job. When I was 13 years old and needed a part, I called him from the phone book, and he gave me a summer job, and he and David Packard thought they’d made a company that was going to outlast them and continue to grow for a generation, and these bozos have screwed it up. Don’t let that happen to Apple.”

He said, “Here’s what’s in our DNA at Apple. We stand at the intersection of art and science; at the intersection of creativity and technology.” And he said, “That’s been in the DNA of great companies. That’s why Walt Disney (DIS) – even though people tried to screw up that company – it’s still going to survive.”

Setting the Agenda

For the Democratic Party, this bespeaks a larger problem here that goes beyond Obama’s second term. Even leading Democrats such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley say the party has failed to set the agenda for the past 30 years–to come up with a powerful new message to counter “Reaganomics.” “Since Reagan [the Republicans] have done a very good job of setting the frame,” O’Malley, one of a small handful of leading Democrats who are spoken of as potential successors to Obama in 2016, told me in an interview before the Democratic convention. “That the enemy is government. The enemy is taxes. …. Too many of us started trying to adopt their message and repackage it as our own.”

Hence in the last two years Obama has allowed Republicans to make the deficit (most of which is George W. Bush’s) the central topic of discussion, just as Bill Clinton was once forced to “triangulate” against big government. Fearful of the big-government stigma, the Obama campaign has even shrunk from trying to promote its signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, to the American people, despite vindication from the Supreme Court, which upheld the health care law in June.

This has been the problem with the Democratic Party since I started following politics around 1992. I don’t see that changing during Obama’s second term. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t offer much in terms of a vision for the country or for government’s role in it.