How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.
~Ronald Reagan (1987)

The introduction of a new public figure is now invariably accompanied by reference to the “inspiring background” and general epic struggle to conquer seemingly insurmountable barriers to success. This reference seemingly obligates us all to nod appreciatively and ignore everything we might find objectionable about our new star. Why do so few people seem to recognize that every politician has log-cabin-background aspirations, and that there is a race to show off who is the most humble? We’re drowning in politicians bragging about their humility. And, if everyone in prominent positions has an “inspiring background,” are they really all that inspiring?

There is no question that we are born in widely varying circumstances. Some of us had monetary privilege, some did not; some had great, loving parents, some did not. We all have different capacities and talents. And we all have an equal opportunity to capitalize on or squander our resources, whatever they are. The United States offers greater opportunity to succeed or fail on one’s own merits and efforts than anywhere on earth (and even though an ever-encroaching and condescending government is making our lives more and more difficult, we still have greater opportunities here than anywhere else).

We all start from scratch. Life is full of obstacles for each of us, no matter the family status or privilege. There are many who started off in fine and reputable families whose lives were disasters. There are also many who came from abject poverty to achieve greatness. True success is both measured by, and is a function of, great character.

So enough with the inspiration already. What is this person’s character? What is his philosophical outlook? How committed is he to intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable it may be? Those are the things that matter, and focusing on anything else is a distraction.

~Shyla Lefever