Category: Archive

Op-Ed: Obama’s qualified, but not for presidency

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Significant was the presence of representatives of Irish political parties at the Democratic convention, few of whom had time to make it to Minneapolis for the Republican gathering.
But Irish commentators have not given much attention to two interesting issues that have appeared in the presidential campaign. One is the question of experience and the other is the issue of elitism. Obama has been criticized on both counts, earlier by Hillary Clinton and now by the Republicans.
After all, Obama’s major political experience and record has been in local government, whether as a community organizer or as a state legislator.
True, he has been a United States Senator since January 2005, but since January of 2007 most of his time has been taken up with running for the presidency.
Of course, one could argue that running for president in itself gives one the requisite experience for the job, but I can’t imagine any other job in which a candidate could point to his looking for the job as the reason why he should be selected. His choice of the seasoned Senator Joe Biden as running mate is evidence that he regards the issue as a serious burden to confront.
The other accusation, that Obama is an elitist, is partly based on the comments he made a fund raising gathering in San Francisco that appeared depreciatory of the “bitter” gun-owning and church going middle Americans of places like western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
He subsequently went to great pains to explain away his comments, especially after Senator Clinton began knocking back shots of whiskey and beer chasers in an effort to identify with the same electorate.
One of the defenses used by Obama’s supporters is that it is a contradiction to call an African American an elitist in view of the long history of oppression and discrimination.
But how closely can Obama claim the African American experience for himself? After all, his mother was white. His African father was a native Kenyan, while the ancestors of most American Blacks came as slaves from western Africa. His father had minimal contact with the child in a brief marriage. His youthful years were divided between his stepfather’s Indonesian home and teenage years in the very multi-cultural state of Hawaii.
In many ways Obama’s linkage with the American Black experience only came when he took on work as a community organizer in Southside Chicago after his Columbia University education. But he interrupted that to study and do very well at Harvard Law School, although returning during the summers.
Obama permanently returned with both an Ivy League law degree and the experience of having been president of the school’s law journal. He also was employed as a professor at the prestigious University of Chicago School of Law. With these especially elitist credentials he turned his hand to running for local office.
Obama’s articulateness and learning do not necessarily mean that he is “the one we have been waiting for.” Instead, it ought suggest he should have been a clerk for a supreme court judge, later a civil rights commissioner, possibly even an attorney general or a solicitor general in a very liberal Democratic administration. In later years he might be a law school dean or even a university president.
However, it remains a serious question whether the qualities required for a university president or the other posts mentioned are the same attributes expected of a president of the United States. The highly intellectual Woodrow Wilson went from having been president of Princeton University and then governor of New Jersey to becoming president, but historians generally believe his presidency, especially his foreign policy, a mixture of idealism and interventionism, had disastrous long-range international consequences the ramifications of which still disturb the world.
Dwight Eisenhower served briefly as president of Columbia University after having been allied commander in the European theater in the Second World War and before he assumed command of NATO and then ran successfully for the presidency.
But while Eisenhower was a remarkable general (although not one of the stellar performers at West Point) and a fine president, it is doubtful anyone, himself included, took his academic position very seriously other than to serve Columbia’s fund raising purposes.
Most presidents have been politicians and more often than not, governors of states, such as the incumbent George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Franklin Roosevelt (and, of course, Wilson). Many presidents, such as Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, and Eisenhower, had modest academic records and Harry Truman did not even graduate from college.
Accordingly, Obama’s elite credentials by themselves scarcely merit his being president, especially in view of his limited experience and political accomplishment (aside from having spent nearly two years running for the office). Perhaps, after several more years as a senator, or some appointive office, and maybe even a university presidency, the case for his candidacy might be stronger.

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