We’re in the money

It’s one of those amazing coincidences of the political world that still has observers scratching their heads, the way we’d respond to someone at the craps table rolling a seven … every time.

Back before 2004, Barack Obama was a part-time Illinois state senator who also worked as a part-time lecturer at a Chicago law school and billed some hours at a local law firm. His wife earned $121,910 as executive director for community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals.

That added up to an above-average income — something over $200,000 for the couple. But Sen. Obama concedes in his recent book, “The Audacity of Hope,” that his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2000 “had left me more or less broke.” The couple had nothing extra to donate to charity, and Sen. Obama even had trouble renting a car when he traveled to Los Angeles for the 2000 Democratic National Convention — his credit card was initially rejected.

Then, in 2004, Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. And it was as if the clouds had parted and rainbows descended from the heavens. Lucrative book contracts arrived in the mail. The administrators of the University of Chicago Hospitals realized Michelle Obama’s talents had been vastly underestimated — a title change to “vice president for community and external affairs” brought a pay hike from $121,910 to $316,962 in a single year. The couple’s income jumped eightfold, according to tax returns the senator released last week.

Suddenly, in 2005, the Obamas made $1.65 million. The next year, their income remained at nearly $1 million.

The Obamas’ pot of gold is hardly unique. The point here is not that the Obama family is any more corrupt or “bought and paid for” than that of any other politician.

Even here in Nevada, many’s the fireman or bartender or attorney of modest means who’s won election to the state Senate or Supreme Court or County Commission, only to find a wide variety of new career and business opportunities opening up to him so that a few years later he manages to retire to an elegant horse ranch which once seemed beyond his wildest dreams.

In a political climate where the government reserves the right to meddle — expensively — in anyone’s business, even those not initially so inclined (think Microsoft) quickly learn that it pays to have friends in high office.

The senator-elect or his wife is an aspiring author, lawyer, public administrator? If a few words in the right ear can help them pay off their debts, buy nicer cars, move uptown, such indirect “favors” are awfully hard to track. And when the time comes, it doesn’t hurt for those in high office to owe a few favors to those who are able to make such well-timed phone calls.

Watching someone roll sevens can be a lot of fun. Once they’ve hit eight or 10 times, though, the smart player may start to cut down his own bets, wondering if this is really still a game of chance.

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