Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arguably, the common denominator is class

The premise of this story in the New York Times is that Barack Obama and John Boehner have nothing in common. What it fails to see is that both are from unprivileged economic backgrounds--which I see as significant common ground. To use the term coined by Joan Williams, they are both "class migrants."

If you read, Dreams from my Father, you get a good sense of President Obama's upbringing. The formative influences were not "upper class," although his parents were well educated, and his mother eventually earned a PhD. But Obama's maternal grandparents were solidly working class, and he spent many of his earliest years living under their roof and their supervision in Hawaii. They had a profound influence on him. (Some have suggested that if Obama got back in touch with this narrative and played it up, he would be a much more successful politician right now). The New York Times earlier told us more about John Boehner's upbringing than, perhaps, we ever wanted to know: Boehner grew up working in his father's bar in a suburb of Cincinnati and graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He's a working class kid made good, while a couple of his 11 siblings are reportedly unemployed, and most are in blue-collar jobs.

The key difference between these two men, both from relatively unprivileged backgrounds, is that one ascended to power largely through elite education while the other did so by being a baron of commerce, by playing (and winning) the free-market game.

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