David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (April 2010) Alfred Knopf.
Tariq Ali, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at home, war abroad (2010) Verso
Dinesh D’souza The Roots of Obama’s Rage, (2010), Regnery press
David Maraniss: Barack Obama: The Story (June 2012), Simon & Schuster
There is now a freshet of books about President Obama, written by both serious and stupid people, available for us to make a serious and informed (or seriously misinformed) assessment on what the president stands for, as well as how his policies might be influenced by the days he spent globetrotting during his youth.
I doubt I’ll ever forget Donald Trump’s hugely inelegant self-promotion campaign. Playing the race card the way he did – by repeatedly insinuating that Obama was born in Kenya for example – was particularly revolting to watch. If we’re going to take the conversation in that direction, then why didn’t the ‘birther’ detractors become fixated on Obama’s Wichita, Kansas origins on the side of his mother, Stanley-Ann Dunham?
And on it went. Uninspired attacks on Obama’s origins and accolades came pouring out, one after the bloody next, like when Trump started asking how did Obama get into all those fancy schools (the prep school Punahou in Hawaii, Occidential in LA, Columbia in New York, then to Harvard) when he heard he was a ‘bad student’. This is nothing more than a cheap attempt to discredit affirmative action programs and code what he really means in more tonier, press friendly language. (See elder Bush’s Willie Horton ads, or those of the senile racist US Senator Jesse Helms). In the 2008 Democratic primaries, the Clinton’s couldn’t even rise above using cheap, racial smears. The ex president of the United States continued to dismantle his wife’s campaign with his half-baked political efforts that included calling super-delegates and saying the US wasn’t ready for a black president. His most loyal aide Sid Blumenthal even went so far as to claim that Michelle Obama had been caught on tape saying ‘whitey’. In what might the truest reflection of their position on the matter, when the Clintons lost the nomination, they handed over all their notes on Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers to the Republicans. Treason of the Democrats!
David Maraniss’ book Barack Obama: The Story gets to the core of Obama’s heritage. As a Washington Post reporter, Maraniss was the first to catch wind of the Clinton gang’s unscrupulous efforts at achieving and retaining the presidential office. He also published a book showing Clinton’s shabby tenure as Arkansas governor, which according to Dick Morris made Hillary Clinton mad as hell.
But in his report on Obama, Maraniss left the greasy politics of the Clinton family and the grubby dish of Washington D.C. behind. Instead Maraniss spent a few years in Africa conducting research for his book. The fruitfulness of his research would be the death knell of the birth certificate debate, which Maraniss dealt in three successive blows:
(1) the artful and adventuring Stanley Ann, the President’s mother, had an unusual name by the standards of traditional gender conventions. The doctors in Hawaii told Maraniss about their part first-hand in the birth of a baby by a Stanley;
(2) Barack Obama Sr., was being monitored by Hawaiian authorities when he was in Hawaii for the birth of his son. These documents indirectly prove a Hawaiian birth. The future President would only meet his father once.
(3) Those fearful of the president’s secret Islamism forget how successful their Christian forebears were in prosteylitizing Africa and especially the Lake Victoria region of Kenya where the Luo tribe reside. By the time Obama in Hawaii was born two generations of Obama’s father’s tribe were in the Christian flock. Africa is one of the most densely Christian places on the planet. The argument that he is was covertly born in Africa makes the argument about his covert Islamism less credible than it most certainly is.
Maraniss’ book, in its totality, lays waste to anything Dinesh D’Souza has produced, from his painfully popular documentary about Obama, to his Forbes cover story about his Kenyan roots, to his unimpressive book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and just made a documentary on the untrue story of Obama, the Muslim, African, Communist, Terrorist. The book purports to trace Obama’s ideological formation but fails in its modes of reasoning, its conclusions appeal to emotion and not logic for support. Avoid this book. Maraniss book is a well-wrought, historical reconstruction of his life based on interviews, documentation, and fact-checking. D’Souza’s is a half-baked theory about Obama’s mad intent to personally curb civil liberties and destroy the US economy.
David Remnick doesn’t reach so far back into history as Maraniss and uses his pages to fit Obama into the Civil Rights Movement. His book, The Bridge, begins with a story set on the bridge connecting Selma to Montgomery, where the marches of 1965 occurred. Incidentally, the same path where Martin Luther King voiced his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963. House Representative John Lewis was one of the 6 organisers of the march during which 600 marchers were beaten by police. He was at President Obama’s inauguration. The white mob attacked the marchers with such impunity and seething hatred that the Voting Rights Acts was enacted by Congress shortly after. This legislation was no panacea, but things became a lot different after the bridge. The bridge is the figurative birth of Obama, in Remnick’s view, who was born underfoot of the Selma marches.
Remnick’s book is long. Too long. Good journalists know journalism is about other people. Read any magazine article in the US press, like Remnick’s own New Yorker, or Time or Newsweek, etc., and you will get vivid if not lurid character dissections of the statesmen and women of our time. However, Remnick provides us with a lot of overkill. Many of Obama’s important life choices (why he began to excel in school and his career ambitions, why he left New York City and Columbia Law to become a Chicago community organizer) are not supported by plausible explanations. Remnick puts on offer a historical context to Obama’s past environments (his Indonesian public schooling, elite private secondary eduction in Hawaii, then Harvard, and then Columbia and then to Chicago where the author goes on to give us an evocative history of Chicago’s black underclass and liberal organizers,) and brushes off Obama’s successes nothing more than just plain luck. Something smells like a set up… A story fed through a ventilation system by Obama’s media counselors perhaps? Was Remnick given access to Obama’s past because Obama’s team knew he’d write the story they wanted? Some believe so. I certainly do. Then again, nobody uses the pitiless political machine in Chicago as a launchpad for the US presidency without making some unscrupulous friends. From here, its usually an unscrupulous campaign. Then an unscrupulous presidency. Remnick’s book doesn’t get into the circuits of political money and corporate favours in the underworld of the Democrats.
Obama entered the Illinois Senate in 1996 by unseating the long-time incumbent, Alice Palmer. Many on the left-wing of US politics began to doubt the progressive credentials of Obama for his challenge to a well-known progressive activist.
In 2000, Obama proved himself to the landed gentry of Chicago politics, the Daley Machine, by running against Daley opponent, Bobby Rush, in a campaign the future president was sure to lose. It was a deliberate sacrifice. A spry Obama showed he would man a turret for others, the burgeoning of a new Czarlet in the party of the donkey. Remnick’s book says Obama became the exalted one because he put a cap on his ambition and didn’t rock the boat in the Daley machine. Eureka! Obama became a successful politician by being no politician at all. A man committed to the non-change ethos of the establishment consensus, brought inside by Valerie Jarrett, corporate council at Daley’s city hall.
As an Illinois Senator, the acumen that Obama amassed as a community organizer in South Side Chicago was rendered into donor-baiting, tree shaking, and fundraising for the DNC. He wrote in 2006 what Tariq Ali calls his ‘campaign-oriented’ book, the Audacity of Hope. The future president had a pristine image and a donor network in his Rolodex to conduct a coup against the Clinton dynasty in the Democratic Party. Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome gives us precious little about Obama path to the presidency. Like Remnick, Ali gives us insightful digressions on topics only fractionally related to Obama. (And who is the carrier of the syndrome? American voters?) He has chapters on Yemen and Kashmir that have nothing to do with his syndrome analogy.
However, Ali does rehash the moment where Senator Obama voted with the Republicans to cut child welfare funding and then gave an impassioned plea to save the program in his district alone only 10 minutes later. Senator Rickie Hendon criticized Obama for his flip-flop and careerism (voting with his future in mind, not on principle). Obama threatened to kick his ass.
“Barack leaned over and stuck his jagged, strained face into my space and told me in an eerie, dark voice that came from some secret place within the ugly side of him, “You embarrassed me on the Senate floor and if you ever do it again I will kick your ass!” I said, “What?” He said, “You heard me, [expletive], and if you come back here by the telephones, where the press can’t see it, I’ll kick your ass right now!”
Hendon called his bluff. The two exchanged blows. Doesn’t really fit the ‘cool cat’ demeanor of the 44th president, does it? Ali, however, uses this punch-up to make dissociated generalisations about Obama’s back-scratching with corporate America: “Corporations of every sort and the politicians and lobbyists attached to them will never be stomped into oblivion”. A total non-sequitur. Ali could have at least provided some minor stat on corporate support for Obama or his campaign financing itinerary. The book is offers no insights into the real workings of the Obama administration and only boringly links his policies to Bush Jr.