By Thomas Sowell
May 06, 2008, 0:00 a.m.
Sometimes unrelated anecdotes nevertheless tell a coherent story.
One newspaper story that caught my eye recently was about two high-powered schools in South Korea where Korean girls study 15 hours a day, preparing themselves for tests to get into elite colleges in the United States. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton already have 34 students from those schools.
When a copy of the 50th anniversary report on members of the Harvard class of 1958 arrived in the mail recently, I thought back to one of my fellow students in that class who had worn a hole in the sole of his shoe but put a folded piece of newspaper in his shoe to cover the hole, rather than tell his parents.
He realized that they would buy him a new pair of shoes if they knew — and he also realized that they could not afford it.
He went on to become a professor at several well-known medical schools and to rack up various achievements and honors over the years.
From even further back in time, I received a letter recently from a man who grew up in my old neighborhood back in Harlem. When he and I were in the same junior high school, one day a teacher who saw him eating his brown-bag lunch suddenly arranged for him to get a lunch from the school cafeteria without having to pay for it.
It happened so fast that my schoolmate had already taken a bite from the school lunch when he suddenly realized that he had been given charity — and he wouldn’t swallow the food. Instead he went to the toilet and spat it out.
By now his brown-bag lunch had been thrown out, so he just went hungry that day. He went on to become a very successful psychiatrist.
Like everyone else, I have also been hearing a lot lately about Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the church that Barack Obama has belonged to for 20 years.
Both men, in their different ways, have for decades been promoting the far left vision of victimization and grievances — Wright from his pulpit and Obama as a community organizer for the radical group ACORN, as a collaborator with former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers, and as the member of the U.S. Senate with the farthest-left voting record.
Later, when the ultimate political prize — the White House — loomed on the horizon, Obama did a complete makeover, now portraying himself as a healer of divisions.
The difference between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright is that they are addressing different audiences, using different styles adapted to those audiences.
It is a difference between upscale demagoguery and ghetto demagoguery, playing the audience for suckers in both cases.
People on the far Left like to flatter themselves that they are for the poor and the downtrodden. But what is most likely to lift people out of poverty — telling them that the world has done them wrong or promoting the work ethnic of the Korean girls, the dogged determination of my Harvard classmate with the newspaper in his shoe, or the self-reliance of my fellow junior-high-school student in Harlem who had too much pride to take charity?
When young people go out into the world, what will they have to offer that can gain them the rewards they seek from others and the achievements they need for themselves?
Will they have the skills of science, technology, or medicine?
Or will they have only the resentments that have been whipped up by the likes of Jeremiah Wright or the sense of entitlement from the government that has been Barack Obama’s stock in trade?
In the real world, a sense of grievance or entitlement, as a result of the mistreatment of your ancestors, is not likely to get you very far with people who are too busy dealing with current economic realities to spend much time thinking about their own ancestors, much less other people’s ancestors.
Another seemingly unrelated experience was being in a crowd at a graveside in a Jewish cemetery last week. That crowd included people who were black, white, Asian, Catholic, Jewish, and no doubt others. This country has come a long way, just in my lifetime.
We don’t need people like either Jeremiah Wright or Barack Obama to take us backward.
The time is long overdue to stop gullibly accepting the Left’s vision of itself as idealistic, rather than self-aggrandizing.
— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.