Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Obama's "Opportunity Costs" [UPDATED]

Jim Geraghty writes at National Review Online:

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:
"This is a central part of his life and story," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist. "He could have written his ticket at any law firm in the country. . . . He decided instead that he wanted to be a civil rights attorney, and he signed up with a small firm that had a reputation for doing this kind of work."
From his wife:
Michelle Obama: “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."
In his ads:
Obama’s law professor Laurence Tribe: “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.”
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.”

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 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.)

My Comments:
My response to Obama's much-touted "sacrifice" (apart from noting that it seems a little unseemly to brag about such things - though, admittedly, I've been guilty of it myself)?

Big frickin' deal.

I mean people out in the real world make such sacrifices and entail such opportunity costs all the time. Moms decide to stay home and raise their own kids rather than go out and earn that second family income. Dads forego more lucrative employment so that they can spend more time at home with their families and in their communities. Families sometimes relocate to communities with fewer high-paying job opportunities so that their kids can be brought up in settings that meet their spiritual and educational needs. Civic-minded folks who might otherwise spend free time and disposable income engaging in leisure activities instead volunteer their time, efforts, and money toward building better communities. And anyone who goes into public service is, by definition, foregoing better-paying jobs in the private sector.

In short, Obama's story, while evidence of a commendable desire to serve the public interest, is neither unique nor indicative of his being especially qualified for the office of the President of the United States.

And besides, as Geraghty notes, if this presidential race is going to come down to who has sacrificed the most in service of the public interest, the guy who spent years in the Hanoi Hilton while serving his country in the armed forces - foregoing early release as long as his fellow POWs were still being held - wins that contest in a landslide.

Color me particularly unimpressed by Obama's "sacrifices".

UPDATE (29 May)
More from Jim Manzi at National Review Online in "Obamerica":
I don’t have a visceral reaction to Barack Obama one way or the other, but I sure found his commencement address at Wesleyan 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...
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.
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.


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At 5/28/2008 2:39 PM, Blogger Dale said...

John Kerry served in Vietnam?

At 5/28/2008 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 2006 Michele Obama received a salary of $273,618 from the University of Chicago hospital. Total Obama family income in 2006 was $991,296. I think almost all Americans, other than the super-rich, looking at those figures would love to make the financial "sacrifices" the Obamas have made.

At 5/28/2008 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it was Chris Rock who said something to the effect of "Do you want a cookie for that?" The mentality that living better than 90% of Americans is a sacrifice blows the mind, even if it is true they could be living amongst the top 5%.

At 5/28/2008 7:14 PM, Blogger Jeff Miller said...

So I guess his book deal wasn't via Crown books part of Random House which is part of corporate America.

Besides if I was Obama I wouldn't brag about being a Community Activist. What the hell does a community activist do anyway?


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