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Democracy, Paternalism

Obama’s Influencers

Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means – law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. … As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. … They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital. … I know that as a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met.

The Audacity of Hope by President Obama
(emphasis mine)

I don’t think what Obama states is a particularly new observation – the idea that one’s surroundings and environment shape their outlook and worldview.   That being said, I think he may sell the idea short by limiting it to “fundraising” and “wealthy donors.”  The fact of the matter is that this is an issue that we all face, and it extends well beyond just asking for money.  It’s everything – who you grow up with, who you go to school with, who you are friends with and who you work with.  It’s part of the reason why I think people were so hopeful when Obama was a candidate in 2008.  His background, both as a black man, and as a former community organizer indicated that, unlike so many other politicians that came before him, his surroundings and environment were more aligned with marginalized voices which  would help shape his outlook and worldview and possibly result in a government that reflected a broader set of perspectives.

And that may be true…to a point.  But the fact of the matter is, to the naked eye, the President’s former classmates, current friends and, most importantly in the case of the presidency, who he works with largely share the same 1% class perspective that Obama himself acknowledged the donors he interacted with (and who impacted him) had.

I don’t think that’s his fault…but it is reality.

Therefore, it raises a few questions:

Isn’t it Inevitable?
No matter how open-minded, kind-hearted and well-intentioned one may believe President Obama (or someone like him) to be, isn’t it inevitable that our (and his) viewpoints will get skewed in one direction or another if we are (or he is) only hearing perspectives, arguments, advice, suggestions, policy proposals that come from a (very) small group of people with similar backgrounds?

And is that a problem?  
Personally, I would say yes, especially when trying to make decisions that affect broader groups (i.e., 99%).

And if it is inevitable and problematic, what can we (and he) do to address this reality?
Personally, I think it starts with opening up idea generation and decision-making to the broader groups.

But I’m certainly open to other suggestions as well…?


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