Letter: Obama’s message is not a hollow one

By Letter to the Editor

In “Yes, I Can” (5/12/08), Nathan Bloom uses misleading numbers to attack a presidential candidate, then makes a sloppy argument about the reason Americans are dissatisfied with their government.

Most importantly, Bloom’s assertion that 1/4 of Americans are lazily projecting their dissatisfaction with the country’s state of affairs onto the “system” isn’t based in reality. Polls tell us why Americans would have plenty of good reasons to be dissatisfied with “the system.” If you compare national opinion to government action, there is a disconnect. Examples of this are manifest, whether you’re looking at stem-cell research, foreign policy, poverty, labels on genetically modified foods, education, or pretty much anything. The difference in priorities between the American people and the American government is striking.

So, Americans exercise their beliefs with their votes (as best as they can, anyway). Their beliefs are often ignored. And then Bloom blames the voters for having negative feelings about the direction of the country. This view abdicates politicians of their responsibility to their electorate.

His attempt at using Obama as an example of someone who doesn’t put his money where his mouth is relies on selective numbers. As both Obamas began to make more money, their charitable giving increased at a much faster rate than their income. All told, from 2000–2006, the overall percentage of their donations (about 3.8 percent) was double the national average for people making more than $190,000 a year and well above the national average (2.2 percent).

Furthermore, Bloom ignores the implicit donations both Obamas have made during their careers. Both gave up lucrative careers as lawyers to work for less money in community-oriented positions. Bloom also ignores the fact that both had law school and college debt to deal with and two daughters to raise. Bloom also fails to mention that Cindy McCain has yet to release her tax returns and that a frequent part of Obama’s rhetoric is a call for individual sacrifice.

By Bloom’s standards, a volunteer in the Peace Corps who doesn’t give any of his poverty-level stipend to charity is more self-interested than a billionaire industrial man who gives a pittance to charity while running his business with no regard as to how it impacts low-income communities. Maybe he’s right; perhaps a millionaire heiress is somehow more laudable for her tax write-offs than a social worker who pays a chunk of her salary to student loans.

Ben Horowitz

Hyde Park