Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Believe in Kevin O'Leary: A Conversion Story

I am a convert to the Kevin O'Leary brand. It took me all of six months, but I have come full circle.

Americans will best know O'Leary as a venture capitalist on the ABC show Shark Tank. Canadian know him playing an identical role on the CBC show Dragon's Den. Mr. Wonderful is the name he gives himself, and it isn't meant ironically. On the Lang and O'Leary Exchange, co-hosted on CBC Newsworld with Amanda Lang, O'Leary preaches the Gospel of Money--or Mammon, in the KJV rendering of Jesus' pointed observation that you cannot serve both God and...you guessed it, money. O'Leary is the real capitalist deal. Small government, not only in the sense of less actual services, but also less regulation, and praise for the virtues of free markets are both part of his liberating message

And if you think I am exaggerating by dropping biblical allusions, read the introduction to his book The Cold, Hard Truth: On Business. Money, and Life. 'When I speak the truth about money, I am almost speaking as money. That's why I come across as harsh, mean, and brutal. I'm just channeling money, in my attempt to help you understand it and amass it.' O'Leary is THE prophet of profit. His brash, difficult to digest exterior has earned him a large number of critics, which would only seem to confirm his exalted status. 'Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.'

My conversion to the Kevin O'Leary brand had two parts. Doubts about initial feelings of revulsion that I felt towards all that O'Leary's on-screen persona represented prompted me to look closer at who he was and, more importantly, what he had written. The Cold, Hard Truth is O'Leary's blitzkrieg on all that fluffy sentiment about the way the world ought to be and should be that clouds a businessperson's financial judgement. No one needs to 'like' what O'Leary has to say, in the same sense no one needs to like what Machiavelli had to say in The Prince. But it doesn't mean that what he has to say is not true, if by true you mean that it has purchase in a real world in which a person needs food on the table, clothes on their back, and a roof over their head. His latest The Cold, Hard Truth on Men, Women, and Money promises a similar shock and awe campaign against wishful thinking.

The second part of my conversion occurred when Amanda Lang proceeded to excoriate O'Leary for accusing media figures, like herself, of a liberal basis against big business a couple of nights ago. On most issues, I fit quite comfortably into Lang's pocket. When media figures report on the iniquities of exceedingly large corporations, I think they are doing their job. Just because a person has a whole lot more money than I do doesn't automatically make them correct. Apologies, Mr. O'Leary.

But Lang rose up with righteous indignation at O'Leary's suggestion widely missed the mark of 'objectivity'. Who was he to call the ideals of her professional vocation in question?

That was the moment my eyes were opened. I saw a golden, 24-carrat halo on O'Leary's head, and the angels of finance fluttering in the background.

I have no difficulty with a liberal media bias against big business. I do have difficulty with a liberal media pretending it has no bias. If bias is not buried in a story's details, then you can find it in the sorts of stories they choose to tell.

In her direct, articulate way, Lang described the nature of O'Leary's sins against the journalistic profession. But she hid herself, and her own personal interests and motivations, behind a protective shroud of journalistic objectivity.

O'Leary simply stared into the camera and smiled. He had nothing to hide behind, nor any need.

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