While the President continues to bristle at the notion that people should pay attention to his “You didn’t build that” comments and his supporters insists we’re reading too much into it, a look at Barack Obama’s younger self tells a different story. Just how does he view business owners and capitalists in general? One peek into the inner thought process which formed his world view can be found in a book released earlier this year by David Maraniss titled, Barack Obama: The Story. I confess I missed this one when it came out, but a friend has been reading it and pointed out some rather telling passages, particularly in light of the recent flap. But I wasn’t the only one to notice, nor the first. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York picked up on it last month.
Obama spent very little time in business, but he did have a job at a company called Business International for about a year after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983. The book contains new details about the future president’s brief stint in corporate America.
Obama was a low-level editor in Reference Services, working on reports describing economic conditions in various foreign countries. By all accounts, he disliked the work, not just because it was pedestrian and boring, but because it was in business.
“He calls it working for the enemy,” Obama’s mother, Ann, wrote after a phone conversation with her son, “because some of the reports are written for commercial firms that want to invest in [Third World] countries.”
The book goes on to point out that this information came from a letter his mother wrote to her mentor, Alice Dewey, in Honolulu. In addition to that call, Maraniss notes that the same theme was repeated in a call to this then girlfriend.
“Obama wrote a letter to his former girlfriend, Alex McNear, during that period, the last he would write to her. As in his telephone conversation with his mother, he expressed a distaste for the corporate world. He wrote Alex on Business International stationery, but crossed out the logo on the envelope and scribbled in his own address on West 114th Street.”
But wait… the book has a few other goodies. While it’s true that Obama did work briefly at B.I. and mentions it in his memoir, Dreams From My Father, his description of his position there was, shall we say, a case of taking a bit of literary license at best. (Taken from page 484 of the hardcover version of Barack Obama: The Story.)
“In his book Obama described B.I. as a ‘consulting house’ to multinational corporations. ‘I had my own office, my own secretary, money in the bank,’ he wrote. ‘Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors – see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in my hand – and for a split second, I would imagine myself as a captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal, before I remembered who it was that I wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve.’ It was an exaggeration to define B.I. as a consulting house. One of his former colleagues described it as ‘a small company that published newsletters on international business. . . . It was a bit of a sweatshop. . . . Sure we all wished we were high-priced consultants to internationals.’ Another called it ‘high school with ashtrays.’ Obama’s office was the size of a cubicle, barely large enough to fit a desk, and faced an interior hallway; he had no secretary, and the dress code was informal; people in his position rarely if ever wore suits. ‘He dressed like a college kid,’ said Lou Celi, who had an image in his mind’s eye of Obama coming to work now and then in white pants. One colleague remembered Obama wearing the same dark pants, nondescript shirt, and narrow tie day after day, like a uniform.”
None of this is illegal, of course, nor even immoral. But it does provide a yet another look into the formative process that the President went through as a young man, which certainly speaks to his opinions later in life. Is it really such a stretch to assert that he’s not exactly a fan of private business and capitalism? B.I. was self-described as a firm with a goal, “to advance profitable corporate and economic growth in socially desirable ways.” And this is the company which, after giving the young Obama a job, he described as, “The Enemy.”
I’ll leave it to you to make the call. Then again, I’m a well known trouble maker so I’m probably reading too much into this too, right?