March 21, 2007

Obama's Self Pity

It has seldom been remarked how large a role self-pity plays in the wildly popular 45-year-old Presidential candidate's personality. Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance concludes with a relatively brief description of his wedding, as performed by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Here's the happy ending to the book (which, according to Google, has never before been quoted online, fueling my suspicion that almost nobody has finished his bestseller because it's such a downer):

"The person who made me proudest of all, though, was [half-brother] Roy. Actually, now we call him Abongo, his Luo name, for two years ago he decided to reassert his African heritage. He converted to Islam, and has sworn off pork and tobacco and alcohol. He still works at his accounting firm [in America], but talks about moving back to Kenya once he has enough money. …

Abongo lifted up his glass of fruit punch for a toast.

"'To those who are not here,'" he said.

"'And to a happy ending," I said.

"We dribbled our drinks onto the checkered-tile floor. And for that moment, at least, I felt like the luckiest man alive."

I love that last sentence in the autobiography that Random House paid Obama to write at age 33. That not only "for that moment," but that day in and day out he just might be one of the luckier men alive never occurs to him.

Obama's concluding phrase "luckiest man alive" is a common misrendering of slugger Lou Gehrig's famous July 4, 1939 farewell speech at Yankee Stadium as he was dying at age 36 of Lou Gehrig's Disease [insert "shoulda seen it coming" joke here]:

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."

Here is the president of the Harvard Law Review getting married to a lovely woman (who is, he neglects to mention, a fellow Harvard Law School graduate and fellow Ivy League bachelor's degree holder) and, yet, he wants us to know that he feels as lucky as Lou Gehrig did while dying … "for that moment, at least."

In other words, in almost all other moments (as detailed at vast length in his book), Obama feels like fate has done him a dirty deal.

We should all be so unlucky.

Now, here's what's really funny. I bet that when a lot of people realize just how profound is Obama's sense of self-pity, they will feel, deep down inside in all sincerity, that we should get together and elect him President … just to cheer him up.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Looking at Obama's legislative record and accomplishments, one can only conclude that he is something of a media creation for the same reasons that Sailer documents, mainly he is a guilt-assauger for moderates and lefties.

As we have seen with Bush folks, the presidency has been so expanded since Clinton really started stretching its powers, that its just too important to let someone command this nation, appoint judges, name numerous public officials, and concoct foreign and domestic policy who may secretely harbor some resentment for this place. Bush is doing some damage that in decades past would have been stopped by other arms of the government or even state governments (the borders for instance), but these days White House power is extrodinary. Its too much power for a questionable patriot like Obama who is uber-impressed by his would-be Kenyan half brother. La-ti-da.

Lysander Spooner said...

"since Clinton really started stretching its powers"

Clinton? Try Teddy Roosevelt.

Amcon Article-Truth to Executive Power

Anonymous said...

I pity the fool who pities Obama.

Anonymous said...

i haven't read the autobiography, nor do I intend to, but just that glib excerpt is enough to convince me that the book is nothing more than a sorry vehicle to promote the writer's political ambition... i think steve is taking the substance of it far too seriously--as if in writing it, obama really set out in a spirit of honest inquiry to find himself and lay bare his soul.

far from that, the only thing revealed by the book is the kind of fictional character obama thinks people would want to support as he strives to become the most powerful man on earth.

Anonymous said...

I think you are reading too much into that passage, Steve. He probably just thought it would sound good, not analogize his misfortune to Lou Gehrig's disease.

Anonymous said...

A surprisingly evidence-free post, Steve... the quoted passage does absolutely nothing to prove the point you're trying to make.

And I agree with the previous commenter in that I don't see any intentional reference to Gehrig.

Anonymous said...

I think I get Sailer's underlying point, that a guy with the incredible good fortune that Obama had had by age 33 -- graduating from two Ivy League schools, marrying a Harvard Law grad, and landing a major book deal (most 33 year olds would be thrilled with just one of those accomplishments) -- should be ecstatic, not just happy for fleeting moments.

Obama appears to be a talented enough writer to know that pure happiness and triumphalism aren't big sellers, so he modestly closes with the spotlight on his half-brother. Who wants to read an autobiography of someone happy, young and successful? No drama there. We'd rather watch "Behind the Music". Obama gives us "Behind my half-brother's embrace of Islam" instead.

Anonymous said...

Why elect someone as President who's half-brother would prefer to live in Kenya as a Muslim than in the US?

Doesn't that indicate a profound lack of faith in America that disqualifies that person (who would one would hope, extoll the virtues of America to his brother) from being President?

And isn't his large dose of self-pity and evident religious and racial separatism (his Half-brother finds his given American name not good enough for him, and converts to the un-American religion of Islam) by itself a disqualification for President?

Americans do not like self-pitying people as leaders. They like Reagans, Clintons, GWB's, over Carters, Mondales, Doles, and Gores and Kerrys.

Unknown said...

I wouldn't be that dramatic Steve. I can understand how his wedding and the recent unification of his family would feel like a high point in his life. And don't forget that in the world of books, mundane doesn't sell.

Anonymous said...

I think Steve's reading too much into this.

Grumpy Old Man said...

I must lack imagination. I never got the Gehrig quote.

Obama might just be right out of Six Degrees of Separation, althogh he really did graduate from Harvard Law.

Anonymous said...

Steve, this seemed like a big stretch (and unfair one) to make. For all of the knocks against the guy and his presidential bid, this was the most flimsy and transparent one that I've ever read. There are literal interpretations, and then there is this. Who hasn't fleetingly felt this way during particularly happy times in their lives?

Anonymous said...

He still works at his accounting firm [in America], but talks about moving back to Kenya once he has enough money. …

House prices in Kenya must be higher than I realised. I assume Abongo did eventually return home.

Anonymous said...

Lets see:Daddy was a crazy violent coal black African who ran off when he was 2;his subsequent record suggests that those 2 years he spent with Annie and Barry may not have been exactly Ozzie and Harriet! His mom--marries above coal black African,gets dumped(or dumps him),moves 1/2 way across the world to Indonesia,marries some other bizarro,sends Barry away. Barry has affair in school with white girl...dumps her cuz he feels "white just isnt right". And on and on. Yeah,Barry IS very lucky,as he is poised to cash in on his inborn talent AND affirmative action,and does so.But to expect him to be at "peace" and feel happy...he doesnt seem like the happy type!

Anonymous said...

Sorry,but at family gatherings how do they say the name "Abongo" without,you know...kind of giggling?

Steve Sailer said...

"Who hasn't fleetingly felt this way during particularly happy times in their lives?"

You're getting it backwards. Obama is emphasizing in the last sentence of his book that his wedding day is the only time in his miserable, accursed life that he's felt particularly lucky.

Anonymous said...

"You're getting it backwards. Obama is emphasizing in the last sentence of his book that his wedding day is the only time in his miserable, accursed life that he's felt particularly lucky."

I have NO IDEA how you're getting this from the book, Steve, and you've offered no evidence to prove your point. You've really jumped the shark on this one.

Please, cite ONE PASSAGE where Obama implies that his life is "miserable" or "accursed."

Steve Sailer said...

Please read the book. Self-pity is a dominant theme throughout.

Anonymous said...


Obama wrote the book at 33. The fact that he had accomplished quite a lot by that age doesn't mean he wasn't sincerely unhappy with his life. Many people with what from the outside look like succesful careers are unhappy with their lives. And though I have not read the book, it seems that his unhappiness is related for being raised by (what to him) is people from another race (he probably saw his maternal family as foster parents, not biological ones). His foray into politics since then might have made him a bit more content. And probably nothing makes him more unhappy than when african americans do not see him as one of their own.

Anonymous said...

The credibility of your analysis of Obama's psyche, in my humble opinion, is seriously undermined by this post. The self-pity thing, OK I can see that (don't believe it as much) and the friendliness toward Islam I can buy. The latter I see as Obama's striving for authenticity which, I don't think he's ever had because of circumstance.

The Gehrig stuff though, that is a stretch and reeks to me of some underlying hostile intent towards this guy. Relax.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how native Kenyans would feel if millions of half or 3/4 European "self realized Kenyans" started moving "home"?

Anonymous said...

If any of them were female...they'd be very happy! :)

Tina J said...

I am voting for OBAMA. First for the democratic nomination, then president. I got OBAMA fever!!!Admit it....You've got it too!!1

Anonymous said...

I thought Lou Gehrig died from Catfish Hunter Disease?

Anonymous said...

Defending Obama brother of Abongo, one of we anon. said:

"Many people with what from the outside look like succesful [sic] careers are unhappy with their lives.[...] it seems that [Obama's] unhappiness is related for [sic] being raised by (what to him) [sic] is people from another race (he probably saw his maternal family as foster parents, not biological ones)."

Nice work, Sherlock! That's Steve's point.

The anonymous anon. continues:

"And though I have not read the book,[blah blah blah]."

Um, maybe you should read the book?

You know, as Steve did?

Then you could put Steve's criticism in context. Steve is right on the money on this one.

What's "evidence-free" is not reading the book and instead looking only at the passage Steve cited in his analysis. (Obviously Steve can't quote the entire book in a post. He relies on you to read the book - as he did - in order for you to evaluate his point rationally.)

A lesson in reading comprehension is needed here, but would have to be delivered orally, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

"You're getting it backwards. Obama is emphasizing in the last sentence of his book that his wedding day is the only time in his miserable, accursed life that he's felt particularly lucky."

By Steve Sailer, at 3/22/2007 11:14 AM

I'm not backwards here. You are making a direct point about the "luckiest man alive" quote. If you wish to point out the self-pity, please cite examples from the book backing up that claim. Don't take one quote during a happy time in his life as the basis of your thesis that the rest of his life has been miserable. That is NOT evident in the passage you reference.

Anonymous said...

Just so others are clear...I did read Obama's book

Anonymous said...

Fairfield is asking for two contradictory things, though he may not know it.

On one hand, he criticizes Sailer because Sailer's point "is not evident in the passage you reference."

On the other hand, he criticizes Sailer for not establishing a context for understanding that passage; he wants Sailer to quote other passages in addition.

Thus Sailer is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't." If he quotes the one passage from the book's conclusion, he has failed to make his point - because the point isn't solely in that passage alone. But if he quotes other passages to support his point, then he has failed to show how his point is in the one passage.

Of course, it is evident - to eyes willing to see - that Sailer does contextualize the passage he quotes by quoting other passages in addition. Where? In the rest of his blog. A blog must be understood (and widely is understood) as an ongoing conversation, not as a collection of stand-alone essays (unless they are reprints of essays published elsewhere). Blog entries are not self-contained term papers ready to be graded by Teacher.

Aside from this elementary point of respecting the (widely known) conventions of the form of communication with which one is engaging, there is the fact that Steve does go a long way to prove his point entirely in this particular blog fragment alone. How? By making an empirical argument that is commonly known as "appealing to common sense."

It is common sense that any man at such a young age who is so blessed with being president of The Harvard Law Review and being happily married to a beautiful Ivy-league-educated lady should be happy unless he has serious issues. When a young man so showered by objective beneficences declares that at the very moment of the zenith of his achievement that what he feels is "And, FOR THAT MOMENT AT LEAST, I felt like the luckiest man alive," he is confirming to anyone with common sense that he has such issues. For it means that in his OTHER MOMENTS (such as Random House's paying him to write an autobiography at age 33!) he DOES NOT feel so. (Sailer's money quote: "That not only 'for that moment,' but that day in and day out he just might be one of the luckier men alive never occurs to him.") QED.

What was it about this point, exactly and specifically, that was so devilishly difficult to follow?

Perhaps persons with Asperger's Syndrome unfortunately can't follow it. ("Where is the evidence?" Try right in front of you.) But I think that even most Aspies would see it perfectly clearly and with no difficulty at all. Especially if they were also to read the contents of (and quotes referenced in) a previous blog entry entitled "Sailer on Obama," not many inches away on the same page.

Truly there are none so blind as those that will not see.

Anonymous said...

To be perfectly clear: Obama reports at the end of a long account of his life that he felt lucky for one moment: at the very zenith of it thus far. "And for that moment at least, I felt like the luckiest man alive." Therefore, he probably didn't feel as lucky in the rest of it. Get it?

But what cause has he to be so glum? In the rest of the book, as Sailer has argued in the blog entry "Sailer on Obama" and elsewhere, he was pretty much showered with privileges from day one. His education in Hawaii, his being the school star, his quick ascension at Harvard, etc., etc. Not lucky, didn't feel lucky. Felt conflicted and bad and angry. Nice psychology, huh?

The point is not that no one in Obama's position should feel the way he did. The point is that anyone in that position who feels that way has issues. Sailer has elsewhere pointed out what those issues are. Read the entry "Obama's Doppelganger."

Anonymous said...

My point, and I will try to get past my supposed Asperger's Syndrome (which is mis-diagnosed BTW in your unnecessary put-down) is that harping on the use of "luckiest man alive" quote is a stretch to make a point about Obama's self-pity.

I have found Steve's analysis/columns/posts on Obama's book to be entertaining and well thought out. I don't agree with alot of it, but it's just a difference of opinion and I like that Steve is willing to tackle these points. It's the reason I read his blog and columns. He has made me look at many things differently and I appreciate that (and I probably should point out the positives more often by posting). But I found this particular argument to be so thin that I had to comment.

Anonymous said...

sorry, my username was left off on the last post.

- K Fairfield