08 September 2008

Obama's ticket

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Sen. Joe Biden extolled Barack Obama’s selflessness in committing himself to “community organizing,” saying, “With all his talent and promise, he could have written his ticket to Wall Street. But that’s not what he chose to do. He chose to go to Chicago. The South Side.”

Really, Joe? Is that the way it was?

I know that now Obama is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law, but back when left Wall Street for the South Side, Obama was just another guy with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Since when are those guys the darlings of Wall Street? Am I the only one who remembers the old joke:

Q: What does the liberal arts major say to the business major?
A: Do you want fries with that?"'

The simple fact of Obama’s work history is that he did take a job on Wall Street when he finished school. It sounds like it was a typical, entry-level job like most people with his qualifications get straight out of school. Let’s face it, if he could have “written his own ticket,” he had plenty of time to do it it during the two years he actually worked in New York. But he didn’t – unless it was a ticket for loitering.

A cynical person might even look at his history and conclude that he left Wall Street not because he valued community service more than money, but because he decided that working his way up the corporate ladder was just too hard. Or maybe, just maybe, he simply wanted to get into politics, and thought that “community organizing” was a good place to start.

Obama himself has portrayed his decision to accept a “community organizer” job as somehow uniquely selfless, recounting the low pay offered to him (dramatic pause) ”And I said yes.” He said yes to what? It’s not as if that small organization in Chicago scanned the ranks of promising young businessmen across the land to try to find a shining star they could lure away. Obama sought them out, writing letters to a number of organizations. Like many young men, he decided on a career change, and went looking for a job. Good for him. But wouldn’t it be a little more accurate to say “they said yes?”

My late father often talked about people who value process vs. people who value content. Obama, you may recall, once argued in favor of a higher capital gains tax not because that higher rate would have any positive effect, but because, well, that would be “the world as it should be.”

Liberals like Obama always measure the inputs, rather than the results; always evaluate the motive, not the achievement. That’s why they fall so easily into attacks on conservative motivations. In their world, it makes no difference that the South Side of Chicago was no better off for all of young Obama’s efforts, the important thing is that he tried; maybe not even that he tried, but simply that he recognized he should try.

I hope that most Americans are still more practical and results-focused than ”Team Obama.” If so, then the newly highlighted inferiority of Obama’s talk about change to Palin’s actual achievement of change will continue to resonate. If that happens, it will be in no small part, ironically enough, because of Obama’s persuasive case earlier this year that we need change.

And, if the world is truly “as it should be,” we’ll say “yes.”