Obama’s Empathy Team
Watching the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, I’ve found myself thinking about our president’s nominees and how many of them share elements of his background: People who have had hard lives, difficult childhoods and who have achieved amazing things. Some are middle-class like him, but many are working-poor. The idea of bringing into public life those whose experience enhances empathy rather than disdain for ordinary people is a refreshing change.
Now, it’s not entirely clear to me that Obama had a particularly difficult childhood but he did achieve amazing things. Sotomayor certainly had a difficult childhood and likewise has had tremendous accomplishments. Both are fine examples of what David Brooks describes as “the story of people in a meritocracy that gets more purified and competitive by the year, with the time demands growing more and more insistent.”
Whether Obama’s team is more filled than others in recent years with those who climbed to the top without a head start, I couldn’t say. Certainly, there are examples of these types in every administration.
But Kissling’s sense of economic class is wildly distorted.
If Barack Obama was “middle class” at the time he was elected president, it’s only because we define that term so broadly. He reported $4.2 million in household income for 2007, up from a mere $1 million in 2006. Suffice it to say, the Obamas pay more in taxes than even most upper middle class people gross.
And, who, exactly has Obama appointed to any significant cabinet office who qualifies as “working poor”? I don’t know what Dr. Benjamin earned last year but presume it was modest by medical doctor standards given the benevolent nature of her practice. But, surely, she’s not impoverished. Indeed, she recently won a $500,000 “Genius Award” from the MacArthur Foundation.
Did any members of Obama’s cabinet or subcabinet or other high-level appointees earn under $20,000 last year? Under $50,000? Under $100,000? I’d be quite surprised.
(As to the opening question re: Benjamin’s weight, my initial reaction upon seeing her was that nominating an obviously obese woman as the country’s chief medical officer was a bad idea, given that obesity is perhaps the leading preventable cause of illness in this country. Upon learning more about her, though, I believe her life story and professional achievements are extraordinary enough to compensate.)