David Maraniss’ book “Barack Obama: The Story” has led me to re-evaluate the president’s motives and methods. As many others have noted, when he wrote his autobiography “Dreams from My Father,” Obama took many liberties. His account of the past, when investigated closely, does not jibe with reality.
For one thing, the characters he describes do not always match actual individuals. They are frequently composites intended to make an ideological point. For another, his sequencing is recurrently out of joint. Once more the objective is dramatic impact rather than historical accuracy.
At one point in Maraniss’ narrative, he describes the power that Obama imputes to words. Barack allegedly told classmates that words were more potent than economics or military might. Judging from the way he behaves in office, he still believes this.
Apparently Obama once thought he might become a writer. We may assume that this included writing novels. If it did, then he has succeeded in his ambition. His erstwhile autobiography turns out to be more like a novel — with himself as hero — than an honest rendering of his early life.
Having invented himself as the kind of person he wanted to be, he had no difficulty resorting to literary license to persuade his readers that this is who he is — and that the way he depicts the world is a correct portrayal of it.
For Obama fantasy mixes with reality in a way that he may have trouble telling apart. One thing Maraniss makes perfectly clear: Barack did not have a storybook childhood. Time and again, essentially emotionally abandoned, he had to develop the detached persona we have become familiar with in the White House.
We are also given to understand that Obama had to struggle with his racial identity. It was not merely that he was half white and half black, but that wherever he found himself, he was different. Always the outsider, whether in Hawaii, Indonesia, California or New York, he needed a reliable peg on which to hang his sense of self.
No wonder he manufactured this as a novelist would. No wonder too that it includes elements of the poseur. In need of persuading others — not just himself — that he was significant personage, he developed social gambits that projected himself as surreally heroic. Think of his pose with head thrust forward and chin pointed up — much in a manner of a Soviet hero-worker.
Think too of all of those public utterances that I have characterized as lies. They may not be so much lies as heroic epigrams. They are inspiring little dictums that sound good — and more importantly — make him look good. For him, what matters is their political effect, not their truth-value.
So Obama tells us he is pleased that the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare. He reiterates that it will be good for the nation, but he does not mention that the court called his policy a “tax.” That would not sit well with the public, so it is not denied; merely left out.
Or he gives a speech in which he boasts of having reduced the deficit. He insists he has cut billions from the budget, but leaves out the trillions he added. He certainly cannot allude to the fact that the budget proposals he sent congress were roundly rejected; even by Democrats who realized they called for unsustainable spending.
What then are we to make of this president who is concerned more with guarding his damaged personhood than with protecting the nation he is sworn to defend? If we are decent people, we can feel sympathy for him. But if we care about the welfare of our country, we dare not re-elect him.
Melvyn L. Fein. Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.