March 17, 2007

Andrew Sullivan on Sailer on Obama

Andrew Sullivan on my Obama article: Sullivan writes:

"Sailer is often blunt, and somewhat callous, I think, in refusing to empathize with the real tensions and difficulties Obama has had to grapple with in a very multicultural life. But his essay is stimulating nonetheless."

I would quibble with Andrew's vocabulary. I'd venture that my essay is the most empathetic treatment Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance has yet received because Obama and I are on the same intellectual wavelength. We are both fascinated by "race and inheritance," whereas almost all white pundits try hard not to think about these interrelated topics. Personally, most other Presidential candidates in recent years have bored me, while I find Obama quite interesting.

I would say, instead, that my essay is certainly less sympathetic to Obama than most of the coverage he has basked in so far. Indeed, he has received such glowing press that liberal is running a regular "Obama Messiah Watch" citing gratuitously adoring journalism.

Despite the similarities in interests between Obama and me, I'm not going to give him a free pass. That's because the man wants to be President of the United States, and I think anybody who is running for the most powerful job in the world ought to put up with some less than fawning analysis.

I'm tired of Presidential candidates escaping searching study. The most damaging example is that zero George W. Bush in 1999-2000, of course, but the most flagrant was Ross Perot in 1992. The man was clearly undergoing a textbook manic-depressive cycle that year: he suddenly decided to run for President as an independent in the beginning of 1992; by spring he was such a ball of fire campaigning that he was actually leading the race; then, he suddenly went into seclusion all summer, muttering about a CIA plot to destabilize his daughter's wedding; and then he reappeared in the fall full of vim and vigor and won the biggest percentage of the vote for any third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.

And yet, searching Google, the only other reference I can find to Ross Perot and manic-depression is one Saturday Night Live skit.

Andrew goes on to say:

"The account of Obama's alcoholic, absent, polygamous father is the kind of thing you keep in mind when considering the psyche of a possible president."

I'm not that concerned. The more important question is Obama Jr., not Obama Sr.

Clearly, alcoholism runs in Obama's family (his father killed a man in a drunken car crash, drank himself out of his high-ranking job, then got himself killed in another drunken car crash; and Obama portrays his half-brother Roy as on the verge of alcoholism ... until he changes his name to Abongo and becomes a devout Muslim), but it ran in other Presidents' ancestors too, such as Ronald Reagan's.

I've never heard any evidence of Obama being a problem drinker. He's 45-year-old with a strong record of achievement unlikely in a drunk.

Judging from his autobiography and his literary style, I'd guess it's a more likely that he is prone to bouts of depression than that he is a problem drinker. But, then, scores of millions of Americans have had periods of depression, as have had some great leaders like Churchill and Lincoln. So, I would be totally against a blanket presumption disqualifying depressives from the Presidency.

Clearly, however, Obama's father, whom he spent about one month with after the age of two, is an obsession of the Presidential candidate, as documented at vast length in Obama's book Dreams from My Father, so it's hardly unreasonable to speculate about his father's influence on him. For example, the Daily Mail noted:

A family friend said: "He is haunted by his father's failures. He grew up thinking of his father as a brilliant intellectual and pioneer of African independence only to learn that in Western terms he was basically a drunken lecher."

But whether that knowledge would make him a better or worse President is hard to say.

I would, however, hope that people would halt pressuring Obama to stop smoking. Obama, judging from his first book, is clearly high-strung and moody. No doubt smoking relaxes him. While smoking is very bad for you in the long run, it does very little harm to your short run job performance unless you are, say, a Mt. Everest guide. For the good of the country, I would want a President Obama to be at his best from age 46 to 54, and giving up smoking would not help his performance as President. If he is elected President next year at 46, I don't much care if he gives up cigarettes and lives to be 80 or keeps on smoking and dies at 70. If he loses in 2008, however, he'll have plenty of stress-free time to quit smoking at his leisure.

In recent decades, Alcoholics Anonymous has had a hard time finding places to meet because of the growing bans on indoor smoking, since recovering alcoholics are notoriously dependent on cigarettes. Drinking and smoking are both ways to self-medicate a nervous, unhappy psyche, which is what Obama portrays himself as having in his first book. I'd rather a President Obama smoked than drank.

But whether he should be President is the real question, and I would encourage American citizens to read his autobiography.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

(Some) journalists are finally starting to read Obama's autobiography

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias engages in the usual point-and-sputter out-of-context quoting of my Obama article, then admits:

"Now, I'll concede that I haven't read Dreams from My Father, Sailer's primary source material for this essay, but it's certainly been a widely read and commented on book among political journalists and nobody else seems to have reached the same conclusion as Sailer. Sailer's explanation for his idiosyncratic reading of the book is that few have "grasped the book’s essence" because "so few of the many who have purchased it following his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention appear to have read much of it." The alternative explanation would, of course, be that Sailer's race hang-ups are leading him to see things that nobody else sees because they're not really there."

Perhaps Matt could at least bestir himself to read the book's subtitle: "A Story of Race and Inheritance." His commenters are beside themselves with fury at me, although most appear to have read neither Obama's book nor my article about his book.

It's simply not true that no other political journalists have seen what I've seen in the book: that white pundits' claims that Obama "transcends race" would be news to Obama.

Here's part of an article on

By Andrew Romano

"Feb. 9, 2007 - For all the hype, Barack Obama remains something of a mystery. To the chattering classes, the junior senator from Illinois is an empty vessel—or, as he himself has put it, “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” ...

"But it’s also a matter of, well, laziness—on our part. Obama has written two top-notch (and relatively revealing) books. Plenty of people are buying them… It’s just that far fewer might be reading them. …

"According to pundits, whites have warmed to Obama—and not all blacks have—because, as the son of an African immigrant who can "act white,” he is a “good black” (a schema cited by Peter Beinart in The New Republic), or not “actually black” at all (as argued by Debra J. Dickerson in Salon). If only someone had told Obama himself—who makes it very clear in his books (especially in “Dreams”) that while he may not “sound or look too black,” as Beinart suggests, he’s hardly the cheery post-racial candidate many believe him to be. Joe Biden be damned.

"In fact, Obama spent much of his life angry and confused about race. When a seventh-grade classmate called him a “coon,” young Barack bloodied his nose in return. Years later, a high-school basketball coach explained that “there are black people, and there are n——-s.” Obama answered with scorn—“There are white folks and then there are ignorant motherf—-ers like you”—before storming off the court. Since then, he writes, he has endured the “usual … petty slights”: “security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason.”

"As a young man, Obama embraced being black. During college, he disdained other “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites, dismissing one black student in “argyle sweaters and pressed jeans” as an “Uncle Tom.” He chose his friends carefully.

“When it came to hanging out many of us chose to function like a tribe, staying close together, traveling in packs,” he writes. “It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses.” To avoid being mistaken for a “sellout,” he befriended “the more politically active black students,” read Malcolm X and attended a Stokely Carmichael rally. He often felt “edgy and defensive” among “white people—some cruel, some ignorant, sometimes a single face, sometimes just a faceless image of a system claiming power over our lives.”

"Since then, Obama’s suspicions have softened. “I have witnessed a profound shift in race relations in my lifetime,” he writes in “Audacity.” “I insist that things have gotten better.”

Accordingly, his racial politics are hardly radical. He wants to enforce nondiscrimination laws, strengthen affirmative action and fight for better schools, better jobs and better health care. But Obama’s books make it clear that, despite his mixed ancestry, he has lived his life as a black American, and, as a result, is more invested in issues of race than people like Beinart and Dickerson may realize."

And here's a good article from the Washington Examiner, that I, unfortunately, had never seen until yesterday.

‘Trapped between two worlds’
Bill Sammon,
The Examiner Jan 30, 2007 3:00 AM (45 days ago)

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama, the only major black candidate in the 2008 presidential race, has spent much of his life anguishing over his mixed-race heritage and self-described “racial obsessions.” Descended from a white American mother and black Kenyan father, the Illinois Democrat once wrote: “He was black as pitch, my mother white as milk.”

In his first memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama observed that when people discover his mixed-race heritage, they make assumptions about “the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds.”

Indeed, Obama acknowledges feeling tormented for much of his life by “the constant, crippling fear that I didn't belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn't, I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.” ...

Although Obama was raised by his mother, he identified more closely with the race of his father, who left the family when Obama was 2. “I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites,” he wrote. Yet, even through high school, he continued to vacillate between the twin strands of his racial identity. “I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he wrote in “Dreams.” “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. 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.”

Although Obama spent various portions of his youth living with his white maternal grandfather and Indonesian stepfather, he vowed that he would “never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.” ...

During college, Obama disapproved of what he called other “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites instead of blacks. And yet after college, he once fell in love with a white woman, only to push her away when he concluded he would have to assimilate into her world, not the other way around. He later married a black woman.

Such candid racial revelations abound in “Dreams,” which was first published in 1995, when Obama was 34 and not yet in politics. By the time he ran for his Senate seat in 2004, he observed of that first memoir: “Certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically.”

Thus, in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” which was published last year, Obama adopted a more conciliatory, even upbeat tone when discussing race. Noting his multiracial family, he wrote in the new book: “I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.” This appears to contradict certain passages in his first memoir, including a description of black student life at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “There were enough of us on campus to constitute a tribe, and when it came to hanging out many of us chose to function like a tribe, staying close together, traveling in packs,” he wrote. “It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.” He added: “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists.”

Obama said he and other blacks were careful not to second-guess their own racial identity in front of whites. “To admit our doubt and confusion to whites, to open up our psyches to general examination by those who had caused so much of the damage in the first place, seemed ludicrous, itself an expression of self-hatred,” he wrote.

After his sophomore year, Obama transferred to Columbia University. Later, looking back on his years in New York City, he recalled: “I had grown accustomed, everywhere, to suspicions between the races.” His pessimism about race relations seemed to pervade his worldview. “The emotion between the races could never be pure,” he laments in “Dreams.” “Even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart.”

After graduating from college, Obama eventually went to Chicago to interview for a job as a community organizer. His racial attitudes came into play as he sized up the man who would become his boss. “There was something about him that made me wary,” Obama wrote. “A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.”

Moreover, many reporters have made the supreme sacrifice of traveling to Hawaii this winter to look into Obama's claim in his book to being tormented on account of his race while he was at Punahou prep school, which, by the way, now has an endowment of $180 million. They've found that his book doesn't jibe with his classmates' recollection of him as a cheerful kid.

For example, here's this week's CBS article, which has an Onionesque flavor:

Obama's "Aloha" Days in The Spotlight
Hawaiians Who Knew Democratic Hopeful Say He Showed No Signs Of Racial Angst
Hans Nichols

Most classmates and teachers recall an easygoing, slightly chunky young man, with the same infectious smile he sports today. Yet many say they have trouble reconciling their nearly 30-year-old memories with Obama's more recent descriptions of himself as a brooding and sometimes angry adolescent, grappling with his mixed race and the void left by a father who gave him his black skin but little else. …

Dan Hale, the 6-foot-7-inch star center of the 1979 Punahou basketball team, said Obama's depiction of Hawaii as a place where race really mattered hardly resonates with him. "I was certainly oblivious to a lot of what he references," Hale said in an interview. "If you look at our teams, that year I was the only white guy on the starting five. You had three part-Hawaiians, one Filipino and me." …

Most of his teachers and friends express sorrow that they did not know of Obama's racial anguish or inner demons. "I wish I would have known that those things were bothering him, or if they did bother him," said Eric Kusunoki, Obama's homeroom teacher from grades nine through 12. "Maybe we could have helped him. But he seemed to have coped pretty well."

Others are more skeptical that the boy known as Barry felt the angst described by Barack. Furushima [a high school crush] said that many of her classmates have expressed dismay at Obama's rendering of the past. "We are just such a mixed-up bag of races. It was hard to imagine that he felt that way, because he just seemed happy all the time, smiling all the time," she said. "We have so many tones of brown here. If someone is brown, they can be Samoan or Fijian or Tongan. I can't tell if someone is Fijian or black."

I particularly like how Obama rationalized his drug use as a preppie as “something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind . . .” His classmates, in contrast, in these articles seemed to find his explanation puzzlingly gratuitous. They all smoked dope on the beach, too, but they didn't need an identity crisis to justify it. It was, like, Hawaii in the 1970s, you know? Maui Wowie, dude!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 16, 2007

New definitions

A good one:

Old definitions:
Liberals: Favor social freedoms, but not economic freedoms.
Conservatives: Favor economic freedoms, but not social freedoms.

New definitions:
Liberals: Believe in evolution, but not biology.
Conservatives: Believe in biology, but not evolution.

This is by Patri Friedman on Catallarchy (via Bryan Caplan in EconLog). It is perhaps not surprising that Patri is aware of the importance of biology, since he is the son of David Friedman and the grandson of Milton Friedman.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 13, 2007

Sailer on Carter

From Taki's magazine:

A Separate Peace (Part One)
By Steve Sailer

Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has been highly controversial due to its title, and not just for its puzzling lack of punctuation. (Isn’t Palestine Peace Not Apartheid missing a colon and a comma?)

When I heard it was being furiously denounced for anti-Semitism by all the usual suspects, I hoped that meant that the 82-year-old Carter had reached that highly entertaining stage of the Presidential life cycle identified in John Stewart’s America (The Book) as “The President as Angry Coot.” I was looking forward to another Plain Speaking, Merle Miller’s bestselling 1974 collection of the aged Harry Truman’s fascinating fulminations.

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, however, turns out to be blandly suave, a reasonable and readable quick introduction to the well-known problems besetting the Holy Land, although hardly the final word on this convoluted and endlessly contentious subject.

The main evidence for Carter having given in to the cranky pleasures of Elderly Tourette’s Syndrome is his use of the A-Word in his title, which has given the Neocon Establishment fits. [More]

Part Two will be later this week in Taki's.

Noted foreign policy commentator Leon Hadar emails in reply:

In general, I probably agree with the main points you raised about the demographic problems that Israelis are facing (in fact, I had written two pieces on the topic for The American Conservative) and the need for "separation" or being "apart."

My main problem is with your insistence on describing Israel as a "European" outpost in the Middle East as opposed to say, a "Westernized" nation-state (like Singapore, for example). I'm not sure that the notion of a conflict between "settlers" and "natives" reflects the reality of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians which is not very different from the ethnic and tribal conflicts in most of the former Ottoman Empire, in the Balkans (no need to elaborate there) and in the Middle East (Kurds/Berbers/Maronites vs. Arabs).

In fact, some of the Shiites in the Arabian Peninsula are descendants of Persian "settlers" and there has been a large wave of Moslem settlers from Egypt and the Levant into Palestine during the 19th and 20th centuries (and let's not forget the population exchanges between Turkey and Greece).

Now. It's true that most of the founders of the Zionist movement were from Eastern and Central Europe. But the majority of the Israeli-Jews who were born in Israel since 1948 descend from Mizrahi/Sepharadi Jews or from mixed marriages between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim that has produced a Hebrew nation with its own territorial identity, language, culture that is not very different from that of Greece and Ireland and is also much "apart" from the American-Jewish community. In fact, as I pointed in my piece in TAC, some of the non-Jewish immigrants from Russia who settled in Israel are gradually becoming part of this Hebrew nation without converting.

In general, the problem in Israel/Palestine is more similar to what has happened in the former Yugoslavia, or Cyprus, or Iraq, in terms of a struggle between ethnic/religious groups over territory than to what took place in South Africa. The two communities will have to separate or to continue living in this never-ending civil war.

Certainly, Israel is becoming more of a Middle Eastern culture and less of a European one as time goes by.

Yet, that can't account for the extraordinary passions it excites around the region and around the world. In Lebanon, in contrast, local Christians, Muslims (of two kinds), Palestinians (Christian and Muslim), and Miscellaneous (Druze) pounded each other for 15 years from 1975-1990, but the world got heartily bored with the Lebanese civil war after the first year, with interest reviving only, tellingly enough, during Israel's 1982 invasion.

So, why the human race's obsession with Israel? First, it's the Holy Land. People really do get worked up over Jerusalem (e.g., the Crusades and the Jerusalem Syndrome that regularly causes manic episodes among tourists in Jerusalem).

Second, the Israelis are Jews, and people get heated up, pro and con, over Jews (e.g., no doubt the comments section of my blog will illustrate this!).

But third, Israel is the only new country of Europeans established outside of Europe since 1945. To much of the world, it looks like a Western colony, and the age of Western colonies is supposed to be over.

Now, you can point out that Israelis are listening to less Mahler and to more Oriental Jewish pop music, but as long as they keep winning wars like a Western power fighting natives, they'll be perceived as Westerners. (Of course, judging by recent Israeli trends -- military ineptitude against Hezbollah; pervasive corruption; the naked, drunken, pervy ambassador to El Salvador being recalled in shame -- Israel appears to be getting more Third Worldy, so perhaps it won't provoke such resentment among its dysfunctional neighbors in the future as it descends more toward their level of competence.)

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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

Sailer on Obama

Here's an excerpt from my 4,000 word essay on Barack Obama in the 3/26/07 American Conservative. Hilariously, this was already being denounced around D.C. before I even finished it.

By, the way, here's the full article.

(And here's my April 7, 2008 follow-up in The American Conservative on how themes of my 2007 article on Obama only surfaced in the media a year later, after most of the primaries.)

An Excerpt from "Obama's Identity Crisis" - 3/26/2007

When Charles de Gaulle paid his first visit to embattled French Algeria after taking power in 1958, he stepped up to the microphone in front of a vast throng of Europeans and Arabs torn by murderous hostilities, stared out at them, and simply announced, “I have understood you.” The crowd exulted. Christians and Muslims alike broke into grateful tears. De Gaulle understands us! What more do we need?

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has yet to attain that level of oracular ambiguity, but his bestseller The Audacity of Hope shows this wordsmith’s facility at eloquently restating the views of both his liberal supporters and his conservative opponents, leaving implicit the suggestion that all we require to resolve these wearying Washington disputes is to find a man who understands us—a reasonable man, a man very much like, say, Obama—and turn power over to him.

The politician has elicited such fervor among many whites that's Timothy Noah runs a regular feature entitled "The Obama Messiah Watch" quoting "gratuitously adoring" articles. (Blacks have tended to be relatively more level-headed about him.)

Early in his run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama’s pollsters discovered that women loved him, especially nice white ladies who like personalities more than politics and definitely don’t like political arguments. Why can’t we all just get along?

Obama has molded himself into the male Oprah Winfrey, the crown prince of niceness, bravely denouncing divisiveness, condemning controversy, eulogizing unity, and retelling his feel-good life story about how he, the child of a black scholar from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, grew up to be editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Gaullism worked out fairly well in France, and so might Obamaism in America. His opposition in 2002 to invading Iraq was sensible and forcibly stated. More characteristically, Obama was a broadly respected Illinois state legislator from 1997-2005 because he searched out minor good government issues and forged bipartisan alliances with technocrats in the Republican ranks. A president, however, can’t pick and choose his issues with the exquisite selectivity Obama displayed as a backbencher—especially not with judicial nominees. So his record as chief executive would likely prove far more liberal.

As we’ve seen with George W. Bush, however, pre-election platforms, such as Bush’s promise to pursue a “humble” foreign policy, matter less than the inner man. Obama is a particularly complicated personality, so he, and the country, deserve a more frank analysis than he has received thus far at the hands of a starstruck press.

Beneath this bland Good Obama lies a more interesting character, one that I like far better—the Bad Obama, a close student of other people’s weaknesses, a literary artist of considerable power in plumbing his deep reservoirs of self-pity and resentment, an unfunny Evelyn Waugh. This Bad Obama, consumed by indignation toward his own mother’s people, has been hiding out on the bestseller lists for the last two years in his enormously revealing, but little understood, 1995 “autobiography”—a more accurate term might be “autobiographical novel”—Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

... Dreams is an impressive book. The abstract lessons he claims to draw from his life aren’t memorable, sapped as they are by the pervasive insincerity about race that America demands of its intellectuals, but Obama has a depressive’s fine eye for the disillusioning detail. His characters, real or synthetic, are vivid, and he has an accurate ear for how different kinds of people speak.

The book’s chief weakness is that its main character—Obama himself—is a bit of a drip, a humor-impaired Holden Caulfield whose preppie angst is fueled by racial regret. (Obama has a knack for irony, but of a strangely humorless flavor.) ...

There is the confusing contrast between the confident, suave master politician we see on television and the tormented narrator of Dreams, who is an updated Black Pride version of the old “tragic mulatto” stereotype found in “Show Boat” and “Imitation of Life.”

Which Obama is real? Or is that a na├»ve question to ask of such a formidable identity artist? William Finnegan wrote in the New Yorker of Obama's campaigning: "… it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor—the blushing, polysyllabic grad student, the hefty black church-pillar lady, the hip-hop autoshop guy." Like Madonna or David Bowie, he has spent his life trying on different personalities, but while theirs are, in Camille Paglia’s phrase, sexual personae, his specialty is racial personae.

His is “a story of race and inheritance,” two closely linked topics upon which American elites have intellectually disarmed themselves. In an era when fashionable thinkers claim that race is just a social construct, Obama’s subtitle is subversive. Although his expensive education—prep school, an Ivy League bachelor’s degree, and then a Harvard professional diploma—has not equipped him with a conceptual vocabulary adequate for articulating the meanings behind his life’s story, the details deliver a message that white intellectuals have all but forgotten: the many-faceted importance of who your relatives are.

A racial group is a large extended family, and Obama’s book is primarily about his rejection of his supportive white maternal extended family in favor of his unknown black paternal extended family.

For the few willing to read all 442 pages, he offers important testimony about the enduring glamour of anti-white anger. It’s a bitter counterweight to the sunny hopes so widely invested in his candidacy as the man whose election as president would somehow help America finally "transcend race." In reality, Obama provides a disturbing test of the best-case scenario of whether America can indeed move beyond race. He inherited his father’s penetrating intelligence; was raised mostly by his loving liberal white grandparents in multiracial, laid-back Hawaii, where America’s normal race rules never applied; and received a superb private school education. And yet, at least through age 33 when he wrote Dreams from My Father, he found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against his mother’s race.

Even his celebrated acceptance of Christianity in his mid-20s turns out to be an affirmation of African-American emotional separatism. As I was reading Dreams, I assumed that his ending would be adapted from the favorite book of his youth, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which climaxes with Malcolm’s visit to Mecca and heartwarming conversion from the racism of the Black Muslims to the universalism of orthodox Islam. I expected that Obama would analogously forgive whites and ask forgiveness for his own racial antagonism as he accepts Jesus.

Instead, Obama falls under the spell of a leftist black nationalist preacher, Jeremiah A. Wright, who preaches African-American unity through antipathy toward whites. Rev. Wright remains a major influence on the presidential candidate. (The title of Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, is borrowed from one of Wright’s sermons.) Ben Wallace-Wells notes in Rolling Stone: “This is as openly radical a background as any significant American political figure has ever emerged from, as much Malcolm X as Martin Luther King Jr.”

In fact, the happy ending to Dreams is that Obama's hard-drinking half-brother Roy -- "Actually, now we call him Abongo, his Luo name, for two years ago he decided to reassert his African heritage" -- converts to tee-totaling Islam.

Here's the full article.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 11, 2007

Clean Loot

In response to Mexico's telecom monopolist being worth $49 billion, a reader writes:

Ah, Telecom. Clean loot!

Isn't it amazing how skullduggery in anything having to do with communications or entertainment never seems to elicit the abhorrence that afflicts something in, oh, oil or the construction business or any industry with big heavy pieces of metal involved. I was thinking of that when you mentioned Oklahoma Senator Robert Kerr [a brilliant Democrat considered too crooked to be President in 1960]. I think he took his money from oil and construction, two industries that Lyndon Johnson had stayed away from as soon as he got into politics in the early 1940s. Instead, Johnson piled up a personal fortune by grabbing radio licenses, legally through his influence at the FCC. They were put in his wife's name, but one suspects the key distinction is that all the money came from shooting electrons across the airwaves, not pulling gunk out of the desert.

And Mark Warner, for a while poster boy for the new Democrats, played an updated version of the same game, all honest and legal, by energetically deploying his Harvard Law skills to grab the early cell-phone licenses that were allocated without any auction to recover monopoly rents for the government. The sources of his great personal wealth were barely mentioned during coverage of his brief campaign. In contrast, Jack Abramoff profited off the competition for Indian Casinos, another 'dirty' industry in most people's minds. It was never shown that Abramoff did anything illegal in helping his clients (he is going to jail for something else.) But there is something about casinos that dirties anyone who gets near them. Even Bruce Babbitt, so to speak the straightest arrow in American politics, got caught up in an investigation of the allocation of casino rights when he was Secretary of the Interior.

Stick with electrons. You can get away with anything.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer