The success of “Dreams” has given Obama nearly complete control of his own life narrative, an appealing tale that has been the foundation of his political success. But Maraniss’s biography threatens that narrative by questioning it: Was Obama’s journey entirely spiritual and intellectual? Or was it also grounded in the lower realms of ambition and calculation? – The dangerous new Obama book, by Glenn Thrush and Dylan Byers
BACK IN 2007, into very early 2008, when the national press was agog about Barack Obama, I wrote about him in a manner that was honest and highly doubting that the myth matched what I’d been told by Chicagoans, as well as what I’d dug up and read about the man who was just another ruthless politician. But politics is a dirty game and there isn’t one person who reaches Obama’s heights that doesn’t get into the mud, which was certainly the case in the Democratic primaries of 2007, which I recount in my book The Hillary Effect.
The Obama camp went nuclear on Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas, which I’ve defended, as they also did on Confidence Men by Ron Suskind, also a trove of revealing facts. So you can bet they’ve got a corner of their reelection war room ready for David Marinass’s new book Barack Obama: The Story, to be published in June by Simon & Schuster.
However, let’s begin with what Barack Obama wrote in Dreams from My Father, before the reader gets to the first page:
“For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people, I’ve known, and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of privacy.” [Business Insider]
No one can get into Mr. Obama’s mind way back when he was writing his memoir, but having written about a boyfriend in my current book I’ll admit I can’t relate to the composite choice. There are many ways to protect people, with a composite obviously coming with motive on crafting a story that lives beyond facts and truth. It’s not in any way necessarily nefarious, dishonest or manipulative. However, considering Barack Obama’s healthy ambition it’s clear there was intent to create a narrative that suited the main character’s purpose. Again, nothing wrong with that either, but the tale does lie beyond fact. That he admits this up front is important. Why he decided to take that road, however, is too.
In Dreams from My Father, Obama chose to emphasize a racial chasm that unavoidably separated him from the woman he described as his New York girlfriend.
One night I took her to see a new play by a black playwright. It was a very angry play, but very funny. Typical black American humor. The audience was mostly black, and everybody was laughing and clapping and hollering like they were in church. After the play was over, my friend started talking about why black people were so angry all the time. I said it was a matter of remembering—nobody asks why Jews remember the Holocaust, I think I said—and she said that’s different, and I said it wasn’t, and she said that anger was just a dead end. We had a big fight, right in front of the theater. When we got back to the car she started crying. She couldn’t be black, she said. She would if she could, but she couldn’t. She could only be herself, and wasn’t that enough.
None of this happened with Genevieve. She remembered going to the theater only once with Barack, and it was not to see a work by a black playwright. When asked about this decades later, during a White House interview, Obama acknowledged that the scene did not happen with Genevieve. “It is an incident that happened,” he said. But not with her. He would not be more specific, but the likelihood is that it happened later, when he lived in Chicago. “That was not her,” he said. “That was an example of compression I was very sensitive in my book not to write about my girlfriends, partly out of respect for them. So that was a consideration. I thought that [the anecdote involving the reaction of a white girlfriend to the angry black play] was a useful theme to make about sort of the interactions that I had in the relationships with white girlfriends. And so, that occupies, what, two paragraphs in the book? My attitude was it would be dishonest for me not to touch on that at all … so that was an example of sort of editorially how do I figure that out?”
An over exercised story in The Atlantic makes good points on Rush Limbaugh and the corrections made by Politico. But the complaining about Obama and “vetting” is laughable.
Politico does get one thing correct and that is the Marinass book is potentially dangerous, because people don’t think of Barack Obama the way they did in 2008. No politician can withstand the pedestal and political god treatment, whether it’s John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, William Jefferson Clinton or, yes, even Barack Obama.
All along David Axelrod and David Plouffe portrayed Barack Obama as beyond your average politician. Michelle Obama has added to this myth exponentially, as has Valerie Jarrett and others around the President, because as the first African American president they’ve laid on him, with Obama accepting the charge, that he’s special, different and, as Oprah said, “The One.”
Through all my writing, including in my book, which focuses on the press’s complicity in allowing the myth of Obama to take hold as a political foundation, I’ve endeavored to portray Barack Obama as he is, which began through what I’d learned from digging around as much as my independent pocketbook would allow, back when the traditional and new media press, as well as cable, were laying hands on him. It looks like the media is finally deciding to consider that Barack Obama is indeed another politician who utilized his life story to craft a narrative that would sell.
Ask Marco Rubio how important a political narrative is in American politics.
We’re a Hollywood nation, so we love a good story and when someone tries to add truth to the mix that tarnishes the tale they end up paying for it in any number of ways.
But to hear the media whine about Barack Obama’s story is a bit much. This is the same national and new media I indict in my book, because of their clear bias and careless coverage throughout 2007-2008, while ignoring important clues, not to mention what they chose to focus on regarding Hillary Clinton, a dramatic political and journalistic tale that goes back 20 years. Ryan Lizza’s article in The New Yorker further proved I’d been on to something from the start.
Now the right’s going nuclear because it will help their fight to get Mitt Romney in the White House. Utilizing Obama’s fall from perfection, the media’s Rip van Winkle awakening to stir up a story in a dizzyingly boring election year, as well as the people’s nervousness about everything, Republicans have seized on the Marinass narrative.
Team Obama’s in for a bruising battle, because now everyone knows he’s not “The One.” No one is.
CORRECTION: The Maranass book will be out in June, not this month as originally stated, and has been corrected above.