As I've been pointing out all year, when people actually get around to reading Senator Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams from my Father, all sorts of questions open up. Now, the New York Times runs a rather dull article pointing out that the brief section in it about his life in New York in the early 1980s is somewhat misleading: he wasn't a glamorous international business consultant, he was a copyeditor of a newsletter, etc.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m a big fan of Barack Obama, the Illinois freshman senator and hot young Democratic Party star. But after reading his autobiography, I have to say that Barack engages in some serious exaggeration when he describes a job that he held in the mid-1980s.I know because I sat down the hall from him, in the same department, and worked closely with his boss. I can’t say I was particularly close to Barack - he was reserved and distant towards all of his co-workers - but I was probably as close to him as anyone. I certainly know what he did there, and it bears only a loose resemblance to what he wrote in his book....
All of Barack’s embellishment serves a larger narrative purpose: to retell the story of the Christ’s temptation. The young, idealistic, would-be community organizer gets a nice suit, joins a consulting house, starts hanging out with investment bankers, and barely escapes moving into the big mansion with the white folks. Luckily, an angel calls, awakens his conscience, and helps him choose instead to fight for the people.
Like I said, I’m a fan. His famous keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention moved me to tears. The Democrats - not to mention America - need a mixed-race spokesperson who can connect to both urban blacks and rural whites, who has the credibility to challenge the status quo on issues ranging from misogynistic rap to unfair school funding.
And yet I’m disappointed. Barack’s story may be true, but many of the facts are not. His larger narrative purpose requires him to embellish his role. I don’t buy it. Just as I can’t be inspired by Steve Jobs now that I know how dishonest he is, I can’t listen uncritically to Barack Obama now that I know he’s willing to bend the facts to his purpose.
As I've mentioned before, the autobiography Obama wrote at age 33 gives the impression of somebody who is interesting but not quite right in the head: verbally talented, depressive, humorless, and overly sensitive, like Joan Didion or an unfunny Evelyn Waugh. That's not the impression most people have of him now (everybody says "He seems so comfortable in his own skin," which raises the question of how did he get his head turned around -- it's too bad he can't tell us how he did it, at least so long as he's running for President).