Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Barack Obama, the Illinois freshman senator and hot young Democratic Party star. But after reading his autobiography, I have to say that Barack engages in some serious exaggeration when he describes a job that he held in the mid-1980s. I know because I sat down the hall from him, in the same department, and worked closely with his boss. I can’t say I was particularly close to Barack – he was reserved and distant towards all of his co-workers – but I was probably as close to him as anyone. I certainly know what he did there, and it bears only a loose resemblance to what he wrote in his book.
Here’s Barack’s account:
Eventually a consulting house to multinational corporations agreed to hire me as a research assistant. Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office and sat at my computer terminal, checking the Reuters machine that blinked bright emerald messages from across the globe. As far as I could tell I was the only black man in the company, a source of shame for me but a source of considerable pride for the company’s secretarial pool.
First, it wasn’t a consulting house; it was a small company that published newsletters on international business. Like most newsletter publishers, it was a bit of a sweatshop. I’m sure we all wished that we were high-priced consultants to multinational corporations. But we also enjoyed coming in at ten, wearing jeans to work, flirting with our co-workers, partying when we stayed late, and bonding over the low salaries and heavy workload.
Barack worked on one of the company’s reference publications. Each month customers got a new set of pages on business conditions in a particular country, punched to fit into a three-ring binder. Barack’s job was to get copy from the country correspondents and edit it so that it fit into a standard outline. There was probably some research involved as well, since correspondents usually don’t send exactly what you ask for, and you can’t always decipher their copy. But essentially the job was copyediting.
If the GOP is going to “Swift Boat” Obama, it’s going to be about this sort of thing. Kerry was condemned for his perceived exaggeration. The Dems do not fully understand how the process worked to untrack Kerry. People do not trust people who make stuff up as they go along.