Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, his campaign manager, and his supporters constantly remind us that when Obama was starting his career as a (stop snickering) “community organizer,” he made a starting salary of $12,000. Or $14,000, depending on who’s telling the story.
Now, as I noted, $10,000 in 1985 dollars equals…
$23,658.63 in 2007 dollars. (Throw in the money he was given to get a car and it’s up to $27,601.73.) Not a lot, obviously, but not that bad for a 24-year-old, considering that the median income per household member (including all working and non-working members above the age of 14) was $26,036 in 2006.
In Byron York’s great article in NR on Obama’s years a community activist, he quotes the man who hired Obama, Jerry Kellman, as saying that the $12,000 was Obama’s “training salary” for the first few months. “After three or four months, he was up to 20,000, and after three years he was probably making $35,000 or so.”
In 1985, the year Obama began as a community organizer, that $20,000 would be the equivalent of $39,431.04 in 2007. His salary when he left Chicagot to attend Harvard law School in 1988 would be the equivalent of $63,093.21 in 2007.
But let’s concede the Obama campaign’s notion that taking forsaking financial rewards to do something you believe in is inherently noble, it is a key qualification for the presidency, and it is a trait we need in national leaders.
As Baseball Crank notes, by this standard, Sarah Palin surpasses the oft-told tale of Obama and that modest starting salary when she resigned a $118,000 a year position on the state’s oil and natural gas commission when she reported ethical improprieties on the commission and the governor refused to take action.
Palin wasn’t independently wealthy, although her family is now well off; her husband made good money as a commercial fisherman and working in the oil fields, but with four children to raise, their status as a two-income family was undoubtedly financially important to them. Yet she was walking away from a plum job with a six-figure salary that had given her a more than 60% pay raise from her job as Mayor. Palin herself had worked only in politics since leaving her sportscasting job some 16 years earlier, and by picking up a crusade against the state’s most powerful political figures, she stood an extremely good chance of burying her promising political future for good. But she was willing to walk away from all of that at age 40 to do the right thing.
In time, Palin will get more familiarity with national issues and become more deft at handling the pop-quiz questions of the Charlie Gibsons and Katie Courics of the world. But integrity like that is a rare thing, and it suggests she will do great things in the political world, no matter the outcome of the 2008 election.