February 11, 2008

Where's Obama's paper trail?

Sen. Obama is a highly gifted writer who has published two large books. We can assume that the first, his 1995 autobiography, wasn't ghost-written because, although it's very well-written, it's also quite boring due to his monomaniacal focus on the topic of "race and inheritance." A professional hack would have insisted on punching it up with more funny stories to make it more entertaining.

So, here's a man with a major talent for expressing himself in writing, and who has been obsessed with social change and politics for his entire life. Yet, where are the articles commenting on current affairs written by Obama before his focus-tested emergence on the national stage a few years ago?

Maybe there are bunch of them out there, but I sure haven't heard of any.

Consider that for eight years, Obama held the job of "Lecturer" at the University of Chicago Law School, the same title as his colleague, federal judge Richard A. Posner. During that period, Posner published, roughly, one quadrillion articles. But Obama, so far as I can tell, doesn't seem to have published anything.

Sure, Obama was busy being a state legislator, but Posner was busy being the top judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and writing more decisions than any other judge in America.

Now, it's often been said that the reason Posner isn't on the Supreme Court is because he has such a lengthy paper trail, which the Democrats would howl over if a Republican President ever nominated him for the Supreme Court.

My impression is that Obama has played his cards very close to his vest from a very early age in order to preserve his viability as a Senate or even Presidential candidate, or as a Supreme Court nominee.

That shows a striking level of self-disciplined ambitiousness, which could seem reassuring or scary, depending on how you look at it.

It also suggests that his personal political views during this long period before he assembled a team of focus-testers were not of the happy-clappy "bring us together" ilk that he's pushing today. After all, what would be the long-term harm of writing a few articles urging bipartisan understanding if that's what he really believed in during the 1980s and 1990s?

Instead, this logic suggests that he realized all along that expressing his personal political views distinctly on paper could come back to haunt him in his drive for national power.

Can anybody do a Lexis-Nexis search for the 1980s and 1990s? He did a lot of interviews around 1991 when he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review, but he's awfully good at playing interviewers. (Amusingly, actor Blair Underwood spent some time with Obama around then to do research for his character on "LA Law.") So, did he write letters to editors or anything like that?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

That might explain the Che poster hanging in an Obama campaign office.


Anonymous said...

Man, you are way too conspiratorial. Obama didn't write op-ed to the Trib as a law professor, because he knew he was headed to the Supreme Court and/or White House?

I guess we all are then.

Anonymous said...

...or Obama wasn't into writing academic papers. Lecturers aren't really required to do research as part of their jobs and most of the ones I've known, at least in other fields, don't publish much if at all. I would venture Posner is the exception.

I don't think his lack of a paper trail means anything really.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Sailer said...

Obama wrote a 442 page book about himself during this period. He can write and he likes to write. But he didn't publish much of anything, so far as I known, on policy.

Compare that to Ronald Reagan's enormous paper trail on policy, with hundreds of columns and speeches.

Obama's original book contract was for a nonfiction analytical book on race and law. He eventually chucked that to write about himself and his relatives. It would certainly be interesting to know what his outline for that original book looked like, no?

Steve Sailer said...

Lucius, Obama was born to a native-born American citizen in an American state. He's utterly eligible to be President under any interpretation of the Constitution. This his parents were either bigamously married or not married at all doesn't matter in the slightest.

He has a better claim than, say, Teddy Roosevelt, who was born while his mother was traveling in Canada.

Anonymous said...


Can you delete the top 6 lins of my last comment ASAP please?

I'll repost it.



Steve Sailer said...

I can delete the whole thing, but I can't selectively edit comments.

Anonymous said...

TR was born in his parents' house at 28 East 20th Street in New York City, according to both a standard reference work I have at hand (The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio) and Wikipedia. Maybe you're thinking of Chester Arthur, who was rumored to have been born in Canada (instead of northern Vermont) but always denied it.

John McCain is an honest-to-goodness native of the Panama Canal Zone, however. He certainly is eligible for the presidency, since he is the son of two U.S. citizens and even if he were not, he was born on U.S. territory. (One doesn't have to be born in a state; Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona when it was still a territory.) It is an interesting fact nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I have doubts about this highly complex interpretation...

I actually tried to read Obama's autobiography, but found it totally deadly dull, and gave up after a couple of tries.

Partly for that reason, I'm pretty skeptical about claims he's a "great writer" or finds writing to be a natural or easy activity.

And if writing doesn't come easy to him, it's hardly surprising that he didn't do almost any of it during those years when he was basically just an "activist." I don't recall "W" having published a lot of articles either.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

Antioco Dascalon said...

Mitt Romney's dad was born in Mexico, but was still eligible to be president, because he was a native-born citizen because both his parents were American citizens.

Anonymous said...

A Lexis-Nexis search pulled up a few mentions of Obama between Jan 1, 1980 and Dec 31, 1996. Most of it wasn't too interesting-news articles about his being named to head the Harvard Law Review and thanks for his input on articles written by professors. (Although one of those articles, by Lawrence Tribe, is about what law can learn from modern physics, and is quite laughable. I wonder what Obama would say now about it..it was written in 1989, and he's probably smart enough now to stay away from a topic like that.)

But he did do some commentary for NPR.


October 28, 1994

SHOW: All Things Considered (NPR 4:30 pm ET)

Charles Murray's Political Expediency Denounced


SECTION: News; Domestic

LENGTH: 635 words

HIGHLIGHT: Commentator Barack Obama finds that Charles Murray, author of the controversial "The Bell Curve," demonstrates not scientific expertise but spurious political motivation in his conclusions about race and IQ.

Obama doesn't seem to say anything terribly left-wing in that...just a reiteration of the standard denunciation of Murray.

Other than that, he doesn't seem to have much of a paper trail.

Planetary Archon Mouse

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, reading through Obama's Audacity of Hope is like trying catch oiled eels with welder's gloves. On a first read, any given position he stakes out sounds reasonable, and it even sounds specific, but on closer examination, you're no closer to his position on a lot of issues than when you started.

There are some obvious things he'll cop to: pro-abortion rights, taxing the rich, dislike of some conservative figures, especially the religious right, and a desire expand health coverage, but these are pretty standard issue for any Democrat.

A lot of his more specific examples are along the lines of something like: We should raise teachers' salaries, but they should be subject to merit examinations, but not tests, nor based on principals opinions, so the unions and other experts should hammer out a system we can all agree on.

Sounds nice, but is, like almost everything he proposes, designed to implement liberal policies while hoodwinking skeptical conservatives. I mean, really, are the teacher unions going to willingly propose a serious means of determining teacher merit?

I'm still only halfway through, but I'd have to agree with Kaus and Sailer at this point that there really is no evidence that Obama is not a paleoliberal, though a polite one with a keen mind.

Anonymous said...

Obama wanted to ban all handguns a few years ago. Hillary's highlighting that one. So no he's not that disciplined. Given that Al Gore in 2000 said gun control cost him TN and hence the Presidency.

You've mentioned that Obama has signs of manic-depressive behavior. Perhaps he was depressive and unable to do much of anything during this period. Or perhaps other than writing about himself in the first book, and his campaign book the next, he really wasn't interested or motivated to write?

I don't see much originality or excitement about Obama. As a pol he doesn't seem that bright. Just a fad.

Anonymous said...


Yes, Obama has proven he's got the intellect. However, you're making a lot of senseless points besides that:

It's clear blacks are the most ethically tribal voting block 80/20. Mormons and Jews also vote in similarly lopsided numbers, but not as often for specific handouts in the ethnic spoils systems.

The analogy you gave is faulty. It sould be what percentage of blacks (0%) voted for David Duke (anti-black) compared to the percentage of whites (small but non-zero) voted for Sharpton/Jessie (anti-white).

The one-drop rule is continued and propaged by BLACKS and WHITES. Whites seem to primarily propagate it as a free handout to anyone. Blacks propagate and expand it by judging people on how light-skinned someone within the black community (either considered more attractive or distrusted potential oreo).

From Wikipedia entry for Obama:

1961: Born Honolulu
1967: Moved to Indonesia
1971: Moved back to Honolulu
Fist/only visit by Father
1979: Graduated prestegious Punahou
Moved to LA to enter Occidental College
1981: Moved to NYC to xfer to Columbia
1983: Graduated Columbia
1983-88: Worked Bus Intl Corp, NYPRIG (NY)
Community Activist/Public Housing Projects (Chi)
1988: Moved to Cambridge for Harvard Law
1990: 1st black President of Harvard Law
1991: Graduated Harvard Law Summa Cum Laude
1993-1996: Assoc Attny for discrimination, voting rights cases
1993-2004: UChi Law Constitutional Law Lecturer
1995: "Dreams from My Father" Published
1996-2004: IL State Senator
2000: Failed campaign for US Congress
2004: Successful campaign for US Senate
Democratic Convention Speech
"Dreams from My Father" Revised
2006: "Audacity of Hope" Published
2007: (Feb) Announced Presidential Candidacy

Although Barack demonstrated the intellect, his history shows that he was more interested in juggling balls (work, politics, pop book, "activism") than the typical publish and perish academic mindset or more narrowly defined policy maker. His chronology shows a lot of overlap of divergent interests.

Given the timeline above, it seems Obama wasn't intentionally avoiding making a stand on issues. I'm not so worried about Obama as the fellow-travelers that come with his association with Black Nationalist Churches, Community Activists and Diversicrats who will fall far short of what Obama is projecting as temper and fairness.

Anonymous said...

LexisNexs law gives 4 hits for author Obama, all years. 2 from 89 with Obama as noted as a researcher for the author, one that simply borrows "the Audacity of Hope" title, and one that has nothing to do with him at all.

A search for Obama in the body, ignoring the earlier searches and before 1999 turns up one mention of "Dreams of My Father"

So, yeah, nothing much.

I ran a few other academic/legal searches for the heck of it, nothing came up. It's so little I suspect I'm doing something wrong.

Anonymous said...

What's the machine behind Obama in Chicago? I assume it's not the Daley one?

That also may have limited his writings -- too much attention to the machine?

Anonymous said...


The Daley Machine and Obama used to not get along, but nowadays, they've mended fences. Obama is supported by the Daley machine, to the point where Daley actually manned the phones for an Obama fund raiser not too long back.

Planetary Archon Mouse

J said...

May be he did not write because his public do not consume written material.

Anonymous said...

"He can write and he likes to write."

I agree, but academic writing is very different from writing about yourself. He might have gotten into trying to write the nonfiction book and realized it wasn't his thing. Or he maybe thought it wasn't smart for his political future. Who knows. I do know people who do monitor what they write because of political aspirations (the guy I went to prom with back in high school did just that).

I do agree it would be interesting to know what he would have written, of course.

Anonymous said...

"Now, it's often been said that the reason Posner isn't on the Supreme Court is because he has such a lengthy paper trail, which the Democrats would howl over if a Republican President ever nominated him for the Supreme Court."

Posner isn't on the Supreme Court because he isn't conservative enough for recent Republican presidents (or at least the image they want to reflect to their party). That is, his paper trail is a much bigger problem among Republicans than Democrats. He has been brutal in his criticism of originalism, frank in how he would rule on Roe v. Wade ("I don't see any point in that"), and has referred to the Second Amendment as "antiquated."

Anonymous said...

Obama biog:

Yesterday, someone called Biff at LGF linked to this.

There's a lot of it and I have no idea how much is accurate. But the author does seem to have done plenty of research.

One point that crops up intermittently is that "the web is being scrubbed of Obama content".