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November 10, 2008

Even Before Obama, I Already Knew That I Could


Apparently, to almost every member of the media, the election of a thoroughly unaccomplished man to the presidency is a definition of the American dream for the sole reason that he is half black. Even President Bush has said that Barack Obama’s election is a “triumph of the American story.”


The unfortunate truth, however, is that Obama’s election is a tremendous devaluation of the American Dream. It teaches us that the recipe for success is not achievement, but cunning. Yet somehow, everyone has fallen victim to the conventional wisdom that “we now know we can do anything.”


Sherri Shepherd, a black co-host of the TV show The View, summarized the refrain we have heard hundreds of times since November 4: “We’ve always been people of color. We’ve always had these limitations on us . . . And so to look at my son and say no limitations on you . . . to look at my baby and go, you don’t have to have limitations . . .”


Were there really limitations on what her son could do? This dramatic statement is, after all, coming from an immensely successful woman who has better name recognition than north of 99.99 percent of the U.S. population, and a woman who has seen blacks become entertainers, CEOs, astronauts, governors, senators, two successive secretaries of state – everything but presidents (which, as seen in at least the last four elections, is now apparently off-limits to old white men with war wounds).


Did Americans, including the poor and minorities, sincerely believe that success was limited by anything other than their own initiative? Did we Americans truly need Obama’s election to finally start believing that we could be anything we wanted to be? Did we not hope, did we not think that “we can,” before Obama told us that we should?


I was born into the Lebanese civil war, both chronologically and geographically. My earliest memories are those of hiding in a makeshift bunker, huddling to pray with my family and neighbors, while a barrage of fire rained down outside. My other memories are those of constantly hearing gunfire while in school, and of speeding on more than one occasion toward a ship that would take refugees to the nearby island of Cyprus when the burden became just too much to bear.


I lived in a country ruled by neighboring Syria, with an unstable society and an economy in tatters, until my parents made the best decision of their lives – bringing my sisters and me to America. I began learning my third language, English, in eighth grade, and I had far from mastered it through much of high school. I was mocked by some in high school for not being American enough, and by many in college for not being anti-American enough. Two days after the 9/11 attacks, and only a few miles from the Pentagon, one of my teachers told me that I bore an uncanny resemblance to Mohammed Atta.


Let’s just say that I didn’t start life with a big advantage. Far from it.


Yet not for one second did I believe that I faced limitations other than my own initiative. Had I stayed in Lebanon, or gone to Africa, South America or even Europe, I probably would have had overwhelming obstacles beyond my control. But not in America. Not in the one country that provides you with equality of opportunity. And I didn’t need some politician to give me self-esteem or hope. I already knew I could.


Though all of my high school courses were in a language that I had just begun to learn, I didn’t complain. I worked hard and reached straight As. I jumped into student council and other extracurriculars. I got into Cornell University – no one had proofread my application, because no one in my family could improve on my English. While Ivy League liberals spent four years trying to convince me that racist conservatives will always discriminate against Arabs like me, these “racist conservatives” made me Chairman of the College Republicans, president of the campus pro-life organization and president of Cornell’s conservative publication – a trifecta no one else had ever achieved.


I then got myself into a top-tier law school. I became one of the country’s – and world’s – youngest syndicated and published columnists, in a language that I was still learning the basics of through my teens.


So far I’ve made it from Middle-Eastern bunker to American attorney and nationally syndicated columnist, and my ambitions are far greater still. Not bad – and it was all possible even before The One came along to tell me that “I can”!


The fact is, I didn’t need Obama to tell me that I could do anything – I was doing just fine without him. Sherri Shepherd was doing just fine without him. So were Oprah, Michelle Malkin, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, Elaine Chao, Clarence Thomas and every other minority who has taken initiative and succeeded in life. The only limitation I have is an arbitrary constitutional obstacle preventing foreign-born citizens from becoming president – and not even The One’s election has changed that.


Obama’s election hasn’t told us anything we didn’t already know. It hasn’t strengthened the American dream. In fact, it trashed it.


All Obama’s election has taught me is that I could develop political support through ties with felons, terrorists and radicals who will raise funds for my campaigns, that I could win those campaigns by eliminating my opponents’ names from the ballot or by relying on their sex scandals, avoid any criticism by voting “present” on important legislation, base my policy positions on polls, make good speeches, tell people what they want to hear and be thoroughly unaccomplished – and that I then could become president.


What a slap in the face to the American Dream, and to those minorities with a record of meaningful successes that have earned them their current positions. What an insult to the American Dream, a beautiful, powerful idea that tells us we can attain a goal as long as we work hard, achieve real successes and make tangible accomplishments that earn us that goal.


Obama may be above average all-around, but how has he done what is necessary to make him presidential material? How has Obama deserved the most powerful position in the world? What has Obama accomplished other than get repeatedly elected? And I’m sorry, Obama soldiers, but “beating the Clinton Machine” will never count as a qualification for the presidency.


This fluke of an election has taught us the wrong lessons about how to achieve our aspirations. Don’t cheapen the American Dream by assigning it to Obama’s unfortunate election.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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