March 12, 2007

Obama, Identity Artist

More journalists are starting to read Sen. Barack Obama's elegant autobiography Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance all the way through and ask questions. (My big article in the 3/26/07 American Conservative on Obama's first 33 years is now in the online edition.)

The contrast between the suave master politician we see on screen and the racially traumatized young man described in his autobiography remain a mystery, one that needs to be solved before the 2008 election. We elected a pig in a poke President in 2000 and are paying the price today. With George W. Bush, we at least had the excuse for not making the effort to understand him that he turns out to be not very interesting to understand -- he's Chauncey Gardiner with a mean streak and some Daddy issues. Obama, in contrast, is a man of parts, a superior individual who rewards investigation.

Here's a new article from the LA Times:

Obama classmates saw a smile, but no racial turmoil
His Hawaii peers had no idea of the inner conflict his memoir describes. They recall a happy kid who fit in.
By Richard A. Serrano

Today, Obama is a campaign sensation, in part because he is seen as the first black presidential candidate who might be able to reach beyond race, building support among Americans of all backgrounds.

That capacity does not surprise the students who knew Obama at Punahou School, which carefully nurtured a respect for diversity. "We had chapel sessions on the Bahai faith, Islam, Judaism, and all forms of Christianity," said Bernice G. Bowers, a classmate. "The message was that diversity made for a richer community."

Dressed like other boys in the required collared shirts and khaki pants, Obama was one of a small number of blacks, but the student body included large numbers of kids with Chinese, Japanese, Samoan and native Hawaiian ancestry, as well as many whites. "We didn't think about his blackness," said Mark Hebing, who went to school with Obama for eight years…

Punahou was where Obama first awakened to these issues, and to the complexities of being black in America. In his bestselling memoir, "Dreams From My Father," he writes that during his time at the school — from fifth grade through his high school graduation in 1979 — he felt the first stirrings of anger toward whites. He says he also delved into black nationalism. He also experimented with marijuana and occasionally cocaine, which were prevalent in the '70s but presented what Obama in his book calls special dangers for young black men. …

Obama says that as he found his way in the world, he learned there were limits to the desirability of advertising his race. "People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves," he writes in "Dreams." "They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."

Certainly Obama's classmates had little sense of what he says was going on beneath the surface. "His reflections about the race issue surprised all of us," said Kellie Furushima, who knew him well. "He gave no indication of feeling uncomfortable in school, and I never witnessed or heard anyone being unkind to him. [More]

So, what's the story with Obama?

Here's one possibility I've kicked around. I've known a fair number of people who have battled depression, paranoia, and other emotional problems. During the bad spells, they can't remember their past happiness, just disturbing incidents that they string together to make up a story about how they've always been depressed and/or oppressed. Dreams from My Father resembles the kind of depressive's literature that psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer has pointed out is so common that it has become our expectation of what fine writing is like. A cheerful artist such as Nabokov seems like an anomaly to us.

On the other hand, I've never heard of any evidence for Obama being emotionally unstable … other than his own autobiography. Looking at his resume, he seems to have motored along through his career nicely, dotting every I and crossing every T so that at age 45 he's a serious candidate for President.

There is little market these days for a literary first novel, but a large one for "memoirs" of unhappy young people, so the publishing industry has been channeling creative writers into claiming a degree of veracity for their efforts that has led to numerous scandals, such as the exposures of A Million Little Pieces and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things as hoaxes. Obama's not that creative, but perhaps Dreams from My Father should be read as an autobiographical novel rather than as an autobiography?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Like Bush, he says he gave up the coke long ago. But he still "needs" those two packs of cigarettes a day.

The other poster made a good point about Obama's father. Remember that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Obama clearly identifies with that crazy bigamist and con man.

Anonymous said...

"Dotted every i and crossed every t."

It's called The Will to Power. Look it up.

Is that, by the way, your way of damning with faint praise Obama's prose skills? "He can write!" :)

Anonymous said...

anonymous writes:
"...there are reports that "mulattoes"-mixed race people-are more violent and prone to diturbing behavior..."

Got a citation for this?

Anonymous said...

So, what's the story with Obama?

Could it just be a little bit of good old-fashioned race and poverty pimping à la Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton?

Anonymous said...

If Obama gets the Democratic nomination, the Republicans will sift through every detail of his book, find something that he can't prove, call it a lie and then try to get Americans to believe he's a liar.

~ Risto

Anonymous said...

The creative community should be supporting John McCain. Barack Obama has given direct support to Shepard Fairey, a visual artist who is a known international copyright violator. Obama has had direct contact with Shepard Fairey and has sent Shepard Fairey letters praising his activity and art even though dozens of art organizations are against artists like Shepard Fairey and others who support the Orphan Works bill. This connection needs to be exposed. Where does Obama stand on the rights of artists when he supports Shepard Fairey who has violated the work of Mederos and others?

The media keeps trying to paint McCain as being a copyright violator by the songs his campaign has played, but McCain is not directly behind the choice in the songs and in every case so far the campaign bought the rights to use the songs and were nice enough to not use them upon finding out the thoughts of the artists behind them. Obama continues to use the service of Shepard Fairey even though artists have demanded him to stop and to be clear on his position with the Orphan Works bill. Obama has been silent. He won't answer!

How is it out of touch when dozens of art organizations have spoken out against artists like Shepard Fairey and the potential of the Orphan Works bill being passed. Seems to me that the Obama campaign is out of touch with the needs of the creative community and that certain people in the creative community are going along with it just because they can't put their politics aside in order to honestly support the rights of artists.

You want truth?