Barack Obama’s Great Expectations

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©Jack Cashill - October 15, 2009

That the Nobel Committee awarded Barack Obama its Peace Prize after nine months of frequent flier dithering—and that Obama accepted the prize—shocked no one who has followed the wondrous career of this presidential prodigy.

There is a sentence in Dreams From My Father, the 1995 memoir, penned for Obama after five years of well compensated dithering, that captures the essence of his preposterously lofty expectations.

The year is 1988. Obama is a community organizer in Chicago. He tells us he is making $13,000 a year. Although Iran guards its nuclear secrets less zealously than the Obama camp guards their man’s grades and LSAT scores, we do know that Obama did not graduate with honors from Columbia University.

That much said, he tells his street friend “Johnnie” that he has decided to go to law school: “The minute I told him the schools to which I’d applied—Harvard, Yale, Stanford—he had grinned and slapped me on the back.”

Harvard, Yale, Stanford? Oh, to be Obama! After graduating from college with honors, I had contemplated going to law school myself.

Although I did not take the LSATs, I had done sufficiently well on my GREs that at least a few friends asked me to take their LSATs for them. I’d have done OK.

And yet when I contemplated my law school choices, they came down to Albany Law School, Seton Hall, and Newark Rutgers. For all of the obvious glamour and prestige of these choices, I was not sure I could afford any of them.

True, I had not gone to Columbia as Obama had, but I had at least thought of going to Princeton. If, however, thinking about peace could win Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, thinking about Princeton did not get me admitted.

In fact, when I told the guidance counselor at my all-scholarship New York City high school about going to Princeton, he actually laughed. “How are you going to afford that?”

Michelle Obama did go to Princeton. “Told by counselors that her SAT scores and her grades weren’t good enough for an Ivy League school,” writes Christopher Andersen in Barack and Michelle, “Michelle applied to Princeton and Harvard anyway.” Oh, to be an Obama!

Passing on law school—a good idea under any circumstances—I headed off to Purdue where I would get a Ph.D. in American studies.

By the time I applied for a job in the professoriate, the old bulls of academia had just about finished jury-rigging an affirmative action apparatus fully indifferent to the U.S. Constitution or its effects on people like me.

The effectiveness of the apparatus dawned on me during one particularly telling elevator ride. It took place at the New York hotel where the Modern Language Association holds its annual hiring convention.

I had taken the bus in that morning—violins at the ready!--from the Newark housing project where I had been staying with my widowed mom.

My apologies for the Dickensian turn in the “narrative,” but I hope to disabuse the reader in advance of any notion that affirmative has ever had anything to do with economic circumstances.

There were three of us on the elevator. We were all wearing name tags. Their universities were no more glorious than mine.

The black fellow asked the young white woman how many job interviews she had that day. “Eight,” she chirped. “How about you?” He smiled sheepishly, “Fourteen!”

I knew at that moment that I was finished with academia.

The white males in my class at Purdue had zero interviews among us.

When one of my buddies finally finessed an interview to un-scenic Southern Utah University, a trip paid for on his own dime, only to be beaten out by a non-citizen from India so SUU could meet its “guidelines,” my friend quit the profession.

He was not alone. Many of us did. We became stockbrokers, lawyers, admen, and if not, we hung on as overworked adjuncts or gypsies or profs in jucos and Midwestern backwaters.

Bottom line: Had Obama’s father come from Kentucky not Kenya and been named O’Hara not Obama, Barry O’Hara’s career would have followed a similar arc. Chances are he would be chasing ambulances in Honolulu.

Hillary supporter Geraldine Ferraro made the mistake of saying as much during the primary season. “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she blundered, forgetting for a moment that the obvious was now verboten.

The irony, of course, is that an apparatus designed to compensate the descendants of slaves has compensated a man whose ancestors were more likely to have been slave owners. In fact, the first of Obama’s African relatives to have even seen a white man was his grandfather.

When affirmative action quietly morphed into “diversity,” and the rationale for unearned glory shifted from compensation to cultural variety, Obama could not provide that either.

Growing up in a white family in the least black state of America without “Dakota” in its name, he contributed less “blackness” to the cultural stew than I would have growing up in Newark.

Still, Obama looked sort of black, even as he lived white, and that proved enough for the easily satisfied. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” said the inimitable Joe Biden.

And yet, none of this would have gotten Obama elected president, if he had taken his wisdom from, say, a Clarence Thomas and not a Bill Ayers.

Obama may not be a genius, but he ain’t stupid.


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Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing new book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.


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