Like virtually everyone else on Earth, I have a soft spot for Barack Obama, not least because he listens to the great Austan Goolsbee. (“What’s a haunted house, ma?” “It’s where the Goolsbee.”) And, let’s be frank, because he’s an ethnic. But his final pre-caucus advertisement, which I found via Marc Ambinder, rubs me the wrong way. Consider this passage, where Obama describes how awesome he is:
“I’ve spent my life working for change that’s made a real difference in the lives of real people.
Already Obama has alienated yours truly. My goal in life is to make a real difference in the lives of MMORPG avatars. As we approach the inside-out cyberworld vividly described by Vernor Vinge, these non-real lives or orcs and goblins will slowly converge with the so-called “real world” of cash-strapped working families. While I do genuinely care about the fate of working families, as the child of a working family (I mean, my family takes part in the legitimate economy, though perhaps we don’t “work as a family” in the sense of “not wanting to stab each other at times”), I wonder: Who will speak up for the e-orcs and other members of the virtual downtrodden?
“That’s why I passed up a job on Wall Street to fight joblessness and poverty on the streets of Chicago when the local steel plant closed.
On a slightly more serious note, I have to wonder if Obama’s intermittent organizing proved more beneficial for poor families on the South Side than, for example, the low-wage employers Chicago and other cities try to systematically drive out of their cities. To be sure, there is a valuable place for community organizers, but Obama is very clearly privileging their place over that of financiers and, by extension, entrepreneurs. This is a mindset that will likely have consequences. “Fighting” poverty via Alinskyite tactics involves a lot of hard work and direct confrontation and stick-to-it-iveness. Perhaps poverty will in fact be felled by a crane kick to the nuts. But I suspect the faceless corporate bureaucrat who came up with Wal-Mart’s $3 check-cashing has done vastly more to actually increase the purchasing power of the poor, and thus to alleviate poverty. (Believe you me, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on what it means to fight poverty. I’ll spare you for now.)
“That’s why I turned down the corporate law firms to work as a civil rights lawyer; to fight for those who had been denied opportunity.
This is somewhat more persuasive: I would love to see corporate law firms vanish. My hope is that superintelligent machines will somehow make this happen within my lifetime. But I do wonder: I know a lot of corporate lawyers who donate to Obama, and some who’ve left their “cushy” (i.e., soul-crushing, grueling, and sometimes mind-numbing) jobs to work for him. Do they see this as some sort of ritualistic self-flagellation? We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! That’s pretty damn depressing.
More broadly, I have to wonder about how Barack Obama thinks the economy works. Apparently the virtuous few are those who work in the universe of social services, the non-profits, a handful of professional agitators, possibly academics. Everyone else, particularly Wall Street types and corporate lawyers and, I don’t know, manufacturers and massage therapists and small business owners, are not so much the people who create the wealth others, in their infinite wisdom, kindly dole out but rather a sickly exploiter class consisting entirely of pale, limpid eunuchs who are not robust enough to lead our nation into the 41st century and beyond.
Having said all this, I still really want Obama to win the Democratic nomination and I’d even be moderately stoked if he won the White House, if only because he seems like what we used to call “a cool dude.” (I am a patsy, but that’s obvious.) But man, if I were one of those productive types — a tiller of soil, etc. — I’d think, “This fella is, uh, kind of self-righteous.”