T Nation

Obama - Condescending and Self Congratulatory

For those of you who seem to think that the average middle class voter couldn’t possibly think Barack Obama comes off as a preening, lecturing, holier-than-thou of the highest order, just take a read of this post from Jim Manzi (and the linked commencement address at Wesleyan described therein). Some criticism of McCain below too, which I think is valid.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=Yjk3NjA0YWQ5ZjUwZWNlMWNhMTJmYmFhMzZhOGU5YTA=

[i]Obamerica [Jim Manzi]

I don’t have a visceral reaction to Barack Obama one way or the other, but I sure found his commencement address at Wesleyan ( http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/karenbakerfletcher/gGB72X ) to be pretty off-putting. He smugly put himself forward as an exemplar of the well-lived life, and proceeded from this to the more politically significant solipsism of imagining how much better America would be if it were filled with people who were a lot more like Barack Obama.

After some throat-clearing, Obama gets into the meat of the speech by offering himself as a role model for the graduating seniors:

[quote] But during my first two years of college, perhaps because the values my mother had taught me - hard work, honesty, empathy - had resurfaced after a long hibernation. . . .

I wrote letters to every organization in the country I could think of. And one day, a small group of churches on the South Side of Chicago offered me a job to come work as a community organizer in neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plant closings. My mother and grandparents wanted me to go to law school. My friends were applying to jobs on Wall Street. Meanwhile, this organization offered me $12,000 a year plus $2,000 for an old, beat-up car.
 
And I said yes.    [/quote]

The single sentence paragraph at the end of this section has got to be my favorite part of the speech, though Obama modestly allowing that his evident virtues of hard work, honesty, and empathy are due to his mother is a close second.

What’s funny about his sacrifice is that when Obama took this job, $14,000 was about the average salary for somebody getting out of college ( http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/p29.html ). Of course, Obama wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill college graduate; he was an Ivy-Leaguer, who graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. A corporate career would almost certainly have been more lucrative �?? for a while. Last year, his family income was about $4,200,000 ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/us/politics/17obama.html?_r=1&ref=politics&oref=slogin ). I don�??t have the data, but I bet that compares reasonably favorably with the average household income of 1983 Columbia political science and 1991 Harvard Law School graduates. Nonetheless, Obama did sacrifice some of his expected credential-based wage premium for a number of years.

I�??m pretty far from being a John McCain booster, but does Obama not get that he�??s running against a guy who spent the directly analogous years of his life in a fetid jungle prison being hung upside down and beaten with sticks until his bones broke?

And I said yes. Cry me a river, pal.

It’s when Obama moves on to apply the lessons of his life to everyone in America, though, that things go from irritating to problematic.

Obama spends many paragraphs exhorting these graduates to do like Obama did, and pursue a lifetime of service:

[quote]You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's. . . .

Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America's story. . . .

There are so many ways to serve and so much need at this defining moment in our history. You don�??t have to be a community organizer or do something crazy like run for President. . . . One hundred and sixty-four graduates of this school have joined the Peace Corps since 2001. . . .

[W]e need you to help lead a green revolution. . . . [We need] a generation of volunteers to work on renewable energy projects, and teach folks about conservation, and help clean up polluted areas; if we send talented engineers and scientists abroad to help developing countries promote clean energy. . . .
 
[W]e need an army of you to become teachers and principals. . . .
 
At a time when there are children in the city of New Orleans who still spend each night in a lonely trailer, we need more of you to take a weekend or a week off from work, and head down South, and help rebuild. . . . Find an organization that's fighting poverty, or a candidate who promotes policies you believe in, and find a way to help them.
 
At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. . . . 
 
[A]ll of us will have to use the energy sources we have more wisely. Deep-rooted poverty will not be reversed overnight. . . . Transforming our education system. . . . Bringing an end to the slaughter in Darfur. . . .[/quote]

And so on.

This incorporates, but is not limited to, the normal helpful advice that a completely materialistic life is usually not the most fulfilling - “With all thy getting, get understanding.” But it also incorporates the assertion that the well-lived, or at least the best-lived, life must be one centered on engagement with political affairs or a social movement. (Though notably lacking on this long, long list of potential forms of service is any mention of the military.) While Obama throws an occasional rhetorical bone to the idea of responsibilities to jobs and immediate families, and certainly calls out homey service at a small scale to those nearest us as admirable, I challenge anybody to read this speech in full and not conclude that Obama is presenting a hierarchical view of human flourishing that sees becoming absorbed in something big and political like transforming American society, addressing global warming, or bringing an end to the slaughter in Darfur as the highest form of self-actualization.

Ironically, Obama’s vision strikes me as quite narrow. While it is surely true that striving to overcome the innate tendency to self-love is an important part of what it means to become fully human for almost every person on earth, it does not follow that the highest form of this struggle for everyone is centered on political projects or organized social movements. It also doesn’t follow that society would be better if everybody devoted more of their energies to such crusades.

At the level of individual psychology, different people are different. Shocking as it is to professional politicians (and maybe readers of political blogs), most people don’t care a whole lot about big causes. If I devote my energies to starting and running my dry-cleaning business and helping to raise my kids, am I a lesser person that my neighbor who works full-time at Human Rights Watch? Surely, it is more realistic and humane to think of a healthy society as a mosaic in which different people play different roles based on temperament and circumstance.

More importantly for a presidential candidate, at the political level, would the United States really be better off if everybody spent less time at the office and devoted more of it to ameliorating global warming, stopping the killing in Darfur, and joining the Peace Corps? If the U.S. were not the largest and most productive economy in the world, it would not have the world’s most powerful military, it would not have the luxury of trying to solve problems from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East, it would not have created awe-inspiring collective achievements like getting to the moon, and the vast majority of poor households in America would not have already have TVs, cars, and air conditioning.

Where do you think all of this wealth comes from? I’ll give you a hint: not from protest rallies, public-interest internships, and petition drives. One thing that reliably motivates people to work hard and produce economic output is the promise of getting more money so that they can buy things they want (a.k.a. “the big house and the nice suits”). This isn’t quite as romantic as losing yourself in service to others, but it seems to work pretty well.

Obama is not alone in de-emphasizing this. His formulation of “it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential” is amazingly close to John McCain’s frequent invocation of “some purpose higher than self-interest.” While McCain obviously has a more militaristic view of this kind of service than Obama does, he also appears to me to find life in the commercial world as morally inferior to a life of public service.

This shared attitude is very worrying. The whole American political leadership class seems to be drunk with imagined power. America represents about 20 percent of the world economy. This has been roughly constant for almost 30 years, but the primary geostrategic fact of our current world is the economic rise of the Asian heartland. It will be very difficult to maintain American power in the face of those who may have deeply contrary interests over the upcoming decades. Simply assuming that will always have this giant ATM machine called the American economy to pay for our political dreams, instead of devoting a lot of energy to figuring out how to make the economy continue to prosper, strikes me as a focus on pretty blossoms while ignoring the roots of the plant.

Of course, if we dig beneath even these economic roots, we find the yet-more-fundamental bedrock of American success: the habits, morals, trust and social cohesion that allow the market economy to function. Part of the reason that both Obama and McCain are selling this idea of service to a higher good is that there is a market for it. Rising economic inequality in the U.S. is driving a growing sense that we�??re not all in the same boat together.

Most people recognize that there is some tendency for the pure search for private gain at the expense of the public good to consume these bedrock virtues and undermine the success of the economy in the very long-term. But Obama’s calls for joining the Peace Corps and so forth are mostly indulging an adolescent fantasy that we just need to get past our selfishness. He mentions the gigantic international competition that globalization has unleashed only in passing, in order to encourage graduates to become teachers. He doesn’t even try to focus on the point that we must find a way to improve the performance of our economy, which in practice means increasing its market orientation, or else risk being left behind. Of course, this increasing market orientation will, in turn, tend to further increase inequality, and undermine its own long-term success. Managing through this tension will be the work of statesmen over multiple presidential terms.

Figuring out how to synthesize these competing interests, and explain to new graduates how each of them can contribute in different ways, would have been the act of a statesman. Unfortunately, Obama’s guidance pretty much boils down to: Greenpeace good; Goldman, Sachs bad; U.S. Army not worth mentioning.[/i]

[quote]Author wrote:
But it also incorporates the assertion that the well-lived, or at least the best-lived, life must be one centered on engagement with political affairs or a social movement. (Though notably lacking on this long, long list of potential forms of service is any mention of the military.)[/quote]

He speaks of that as a bad thing.

Fsck the military!

One more, same theme:

http://campaignspot.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YjMxOGYzN2YzOTQ4NTlhM2IwODNiZGNlY2YxZWM0YTU=

[i]Okay, we get it: Obama could have taken jobs that would have paid a lot more.

So, unless you’ve paid no attention to the race so far, you’ve probably heard that Barack Obama could have made more money in the past by taking different jobs, but chose other ones.

From his strategist ( http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/06/nation/na-obamalegal6 ):

From his wife ( http://hughhewitt.townhall.com/blog/g/7aec12f9-0065-4e36-a7f3-eb555f131ff6 ):

[quote]"Barack, yeah, went back to law school. So did I. But he didn't go into corporate America and make a lot of money. He could have. What did he do? He became a civil rights attorney in a small firm in Chicago, and a Constitutional law scholar. Why? Because to whom much is given, much is expected. And when you�??re given the gift of advocacy, you don't sell it to the highest bidder, according to Barack. So Barack spent years in the shadows when no one was looking, working on issues of justice and fairness, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, voting rights.

Also: "We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we're asking young people to do," she told a group of women at a day-care center. "Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we're encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond."[/quote]

In his ads ( http://blog.4president.org/2008/2007/06/obama-campaign-.html ):

Obama's law professor Laurence Tribe: [quote]"What was most remarkable about him was that even though he could have written his ticket with any Wall Street law firm and had offers for clerkships on circuit courts with a virtual pathway to a Supreme Court clerkship, he didn�??t. He chose instead to go back to the South Side of Chicago and work with the community, registering voters, doing civil rights work. He was really just doing good things with his legal education. It was an inspiration to watch."[/quote]

And apparently it’s been a longtime theme of Obama’s campaigns. In David Mendell’s biography of the Illinois senator, Obama: From Promise To Power, he writes: “By most accounts, in the Rush contest [the 2000 Democratic House primary] Obama was too fond of reciting his impressive resume, too often mentioned that he had forsaken a high-priced law firm for public office and too often spoke in the high-minded prose of a constitutional law lecturer, all of which could make him appear condescending to his audience.”

Obama could have taken jobs that would have paid a lot more. We get it.

Clearly, this is something that Obama and those around him see as one of his key character strengths. He invokes this moral trump card almost as often as John Kerry told us he served in Vietnam.

(If Michelle Obama indeed believes the key criteria for picking the next president ( http://www.newsobserver.com/politics/story/1030379.html ) is the kinds of “choices he made while no one was looking,” fine. I’m leaning towards the candidate who turned down early release from torturous imprisonment because he knew the purpose of his captors’ offer was to break the will of the other prisoners.)

In a way, this is just an updated way of the candidate emphasizing humble roots, the 2008 version of “I was born in a log cabin.” (I know, I know, judging by his press coverage, Obama was born in a manger.)

But even if the electorate buys into the “taking a low-paying job reveals moral strength; taking a high-paying job reveals moral weakness” argument, John McCain has been playing this card longer and more effectively. Mind you, when he says it, fans of Mitt Romney grind their teeth at the insinuation that successful entrepreneurship is somehow sinister or ignoble. McCain’s military family wasn’t poor, obviously, but you don’t join the armed forces to get wealthy. And McCain beat the “I led for patriotism, not for profit” drum throughout the primaries.

The expected reaction to this I-could-have-made-millions-but-chose-otherwise is for the public to beam and salute Obama’s appetite to make a difference instead of a fortune. (He and Michelle have actually accumulated a small fortune, thanks to his book sales and her dramatic post-2004 salary increases.)

But the more this note is repeated, I’m reminded of someone else. That guy in your office. You know, that guy who’s always, sometimes subtly and not so subtly reminding you how lucky you are that he works here. How he could be making more money elsewhere. How he knows he’s overqualified, but he isn’t interested in material things, and he feels the best way to demonstrate that modesty is to constantly remind you of it.[/i]

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
One more, same theme:
[/quote]

Why Boston, why?

If he just ate regular iceberg lettuce on his own private plane like McCain, we could all relate to him more.

While he is only trying to sell himself, like anyone applying to a job would, I do agree with many of the articles points. I actually liked the first part of the speech, but the scond part he quoted scares the shit out of me.

Wonderful for you, you went to be a community organizer. If that had been a follow up to a “follow your heart and passions,” speech, it would have been fine and dandy. In fact, I would have called it a great speech. But he goes on as if public service is the ONLY job that will fulfill you, as if only being a public servant can bring greater good to society. He displays himself and his path as a role model path, not because he followed his passions, but because he sacrificed money (evil, evil money) to help people by becoming part of a ‘greater whole’. The utter lack of individuality he is championing scares me shitless.

His socialist rhetoric, for in the end, that’s what the second quoted passage is, scares me greatly.

(NOTE: I am only referring to the first article. I did not see the second when I posted)

I am not sure playing up personal sacrifice and self-praise in this way is a great idea against a former POW who spent two of his five years in solitary confinement.

It’s not a bad personal story - minus his socialist overtones - it just plays too well into McCain’s personal story of service and sacrifice, which is more compelling.

It would play better if Obama made the point of service to a higher duty, etc. without the narcissism of his “it’s an awesome thing to do…take me, for example…”

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
I am not sure playing up personal sacrifice and self-praise in this way is a great idea against a former POW who spent two of his five years in solitary confinement.

It’s not a bad personal story - minus his socialist overtones - it just plays too well into McCain’s personal story of service and sacrifice, which is more compelling.

It would play better if Obama made the point of service to a higher duty, etc. without the narcissism of his “it’s an awesome thing to do…take me, for example…”[/quote]

There is a fundamental difference between being drafted to go shoot at “gooks” (McCain’s own words), and choosing a career that privileges the good of the community over personal wealth.

McCain could have a case of “sacrifice” if the Vietnamese actually attacked the US mainland, and he then volunteered to kick their ass. That he was forced into bombing foreigners that never did anything to him or his country is hardly an achievement.

[quote]lixy wrote:
thunderbolt23 wrote:
I am not sure playing up personal sacrifice and self-praise in this way is a great idea against a former POW who spent two of his five years in solitary confinement.

It’s not a bad personal story - minus his socialist overtones - it just plays too well into McCain’s personal story of service and sacrifice, which is more compelling.

It would play better if Obama made the point of service to a higher duty, etc. without the narcissism of his “it’s an awesome thing to do…take me, for example…”

There is a fundamental difference between being drafted to go shoot at “gooks” (McCain’s own words), and choosing a career that privileges the good of the community over personal wealth.

McCain could have a case of “sacrifice” if the Vietnamese actually attacked the US mainland, and he then volunteered to kick their ass. That he was forced into bombing foreigners that never did anything to him or his country is hardly an achievement.[/quote]

McCain was drafted?

[quote]Beowolf wrote:
His socialist rhetoric, for in the end, that’s what the second quoted passage is, scares me greatly.
[/quote]

It is not only scary, it is disingenuous. This is not the way to avoid the “limousine liberal” label. It is very, very easy to tell others to eschew a life of material accumulation to serve the community when one’s own coffers are overflowing.

[quote]Moriarty wrote:
lixy wrote:
thunderbolt23 wrote:
I am not sure playing up personal sacrifice and self-praise in this way is a great idea against a former POW who spent two of his five years in solitary confinement.

It’s not a bad personal story - minus his socialist overtones - it just plays too well into McCain’s personal story of service and sacrifice, which is more compelling.

It would play better if Obama made the point of service to a higher duty, etc. without the narcissism of his “it’s an awesome thing to do…take me, for example…”

There is a fundamental difference between being drafted to go shoot at “gooks” (McCain’s own words), and choosing a career that privileges the good of the community over personal wealth.

McCain could have a case of “sacrifice” if the Vietnamese actually attacked the US mainland, and he then volunteered to kick their ass. That he was forced into bombing foreigners that never did anything to him or his country is hardly an achievement.

McCain was drafted?[/quote]

No. That was a general statement about all the people who were, and who actually lost mind and/or limbs due to the draft.

McCain was dragged into a war.

Another liberal ignorant of the military.

You’re not “drafted” to attend the Naval Academy. You get an “appointment,” which is a huge hassle. It requires a Senator’s help, good grades, good SAT scores, and often family connections. And you start out as an officer (O-1), not an E-1.

[quote]lixy wrote:

There is a fundamental difference between being drafted to go shoot at “gooks” (McCain’s own words), and choosing a career that privileges the good of the community over personal wealth.[/quote]

Lixy, you are still here?

First, McCain didn’t get drafted - he chose to serve, hence the “service” concept.

Second, the Vietcong shot back, so the occasional epithet, though unfortunate and uttered a while ago, is forgivable.

Lixy, for your own sake, don’t open up an opinion on foreign policy and historical wars. The only thing we ever learn is how much your education has failed you.

As is, McCain served with distinction in a war to beat back the advancing cancer of communism, and while Vietnam was a messy affair given its proxy war status, McCain participated in trying to defeat a menace that has a higher body count than Nazism, and as such, his service was one hell of an achievement.

Back to the topic.

[quote]lixy wrote:

No. That was a general statement about all the people who were, and who actually lost mind and/or limbs due to the draft.

McCain was dragged into a war. [/quote]

Quick! Try and pretend like I knew what I was talking about!

[quote]lixy wrote:
thunderbolt23 wrote:
I am not sure playing up personal sacrifice and self-praise in this way is a great idea against a former POW who spent two of his five years in solitary confinement.

It’s not a bad personal story - minus his socialist overtones - it just plays too well into McCain’s personal story of service and sacrifice, which is more compelling.

It would play better if Obama made the point of service to a higher duty, etc. without the narcissism of his “it’s an awesome thing to do…take me, for example…”

There is a fundamental difference between being drafted to go shoot at “gooks” (McCain’s own words), and choosing a career that privileges the good of the community over personal wealth.

McCain could have a case of “sacrifice” if the Vietnamese actually attacked the US mainland, and he then volunteered to kick their ass. That he was forced into bombing foreigners that never did anything to him or his country is hardly an achievement.[/quote]

Would you stand by and let some bully beat on a small friend of yours? The bully wasn’t attacking YOU, afterall.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:

Would you stand by and let some bully beat on a small friend of yours? [/quote]

Not sure Lixy would have much of a choice.

Hahaha! Oh man, reading some of these posts.

Come on guys, you’re not all being serious are you?

Same shit different shit storm

Kerry dropped a football, people attacked him for that (because they wouldn’t dare bring up an important issue that they had no information on)

Obama comes from a rich family, people criticize him for this. His pastor is (OOOH) CRAZY! Makes him crazy too, doesn’t it!?

Just forget about McCains minister and his comments about wiping the middle east off the map under “god’s will”

Seriously… Some of you guys don’t vote… right?

RIGHT!?

If you guys seriously think there ever was a candidate who wasn’t full of themselves and their cabinet of supporters, you are blind.

All 4 of the candidates (Paul still running) are politicians, and 3 of them pursued law and are from rich backgrounds. Hillary Clinton was a lawyer for WAL MART!! A company that supports the worst human rights treatments under the name of CAPITALISM! HOORAH. McCain, sure he served, was a POW, does this make him any more capable to run a country? NO! In fact, statistically, he is more fit to be homeless. 3/4 Homeless persons are retired vets from his era. (In the Midwest at least) Obama is a junior senator who votes “present” on most hot issues. This raises serious question and doubt in certain peoples minds. Ron Paul wants to change too many things so him as a president would be illogical (according to some)

Honestly, bickering about these things get you no where. A responsible and mature debate is the only way to make a person consider their own position. The first person who throws shit is also the first person who doubts their being right. As far as I’m concerned, half if not most of you are so insecure that they have to argue their position with sensationalism and loaded words on the INTERNET to get their point across (in the end there is no point anyways…)

…Did you not read anything that was written?

It’s not just the condescending tone, it’s the socialist attitude that scares us. The “making money is evil and immoral” rhetoric.

[quote]100meters wrote:

Why Boston, why?

If he just ate regular iceberg lettuce on his own private plane like McCain, we could all relate to him more.

[/quote]

It’s not the money, or the flying on private jets, or the Harvard education - it’s the condescending and entitled attitude.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:
…Did you not read anything that was written?

It’s not just the condescending tone, it’s the socialist attitude that scares us. The “making money is evil and immoral” rhetoric.

[/quote]

"Obama calls for cap-and-trade program

By William L. Watts, MarketWatch
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) – Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama on Monday said that if elected he would establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade program that would sharply cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
In a speech prepared for delivery in Portsmouth, N.H., the Illinois senator said the cap-and-trade plan would be the centerpiece of a wide-ranging set of measures designed to cut emissions of gases tied to global warming and weaning the United States off of dependence on oil.
Under a cap-and-trade plan, companies that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases receive or buy credits that give them the right to emit a certain amount. Companies that emit less carbon than their credits allow can profit by selling any excess credits on the open market, while those that exceed their emission allowance have to make up the difference or face heavy fines.
Obama’s plan would require all credits to be purchased at auction, rather than allocated by industry – a move his campaign said would ensure that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions released."

To deliberately hobble domestic industries using environmentalism has long been a strategy of the socialist elite. Remember, an increasing middle class is thought by them to be evil.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
.

"Obama calls for cap-and-trade program

[/quote]

While it is fun to make fun of the guy for being a typical politician while he pretends otherwise it is his real policies that bother me.

Combine this with his desire to raise taxes on oil companies (for which they will just pass on the costs to the consumers) and we are looking at economic disaster.

We can handle market driven rising energy prices but when the government starts piling on I am afraid we will not be able to adapt quickly enough.