Obama’s Dark Side

US Politics
on 29 Comments

I think Barack Obama is our Jesus, he’s going to save America. The surge of feeling called from the giant crowd I was in Saturday by this slender man as he skipped off the train at a whistlestop in Wynnewood, Pa., was Woodstock Nation feeling, the feeling of spiritual renewal, of a bottoms-up movement to bring my country back to her ideals. Amen.

That said, journalists should serve their readers; and I can’t help but talk about Obama’s dark side. I believe we’re all going to get to know it over the next eight years. Might as well start now. 

Obama’s first book Dreams From My Father (1995) is a classic on race and identity–indeed, I can’t wait to blog about its implications for Zionism, Jewish identity, and foreign policy–but it’s also highly revealing psychologically. Obama begins the book by stating that he’s going to write "an honest account of a particular province of my life." That’s true, but also something of a stiff arm to the reader. I.e., this book is concerned with identity and paternity only; other provinces are  none of the reader’s business.

Still, a psychic portrait comes through. Obama was abandoned by his father and, in a sense, abandoned by his mother too. When he was 10 or 11, she sent him back to Hawaii from Indonesia to live with his grandparents and go to Punahou School. Obama had great fondness for his grandparents, but he also saw right through them. He grew himself up. He has always been by himself in the world. This has made him strong and self-reliant, and there is an edge of mistrust, too. Like that sharp warning to the reader.

I’m not finished the book, but this detachment and mistrust are evident in the relationships he describes. Characters flit thru without any real hold on Obama, a couple of them knifed casually on the way out. His mother and grandparents come alive for a chapter or two and then he forgets about them, 100 pages on, and we have no idea how they’re faring. Halfway thru the book he quotes a long monologue he offered to Auma, his half sister from Kenya, visiting him in Chicago, about a white girl in New York who "I loved." Obama went out with the girl for a year, met her privileged family at their country home. The two broke up over racial issues. The story is beautifully told; Obama is an astonishing writer.

But it I found it weird and jarring to learn about this love affair nearly 100 pages after its actual place in the chronology, his New York chapters, when he had said nothing about it. And in a book filled with pseudonyms, the girl doesn’t even rate a pseudonym. I wondered whether Obama still pined for her. Also a little strange that in a racial narrative, in which Obama anatomizes his feelings about his blackness at many turns, he’s failed to tell us that he fell in love with a white woman.

As a writer, I am keen on reading acknowledgments, and that’s something else that struck me about Obama’s book: the acknowledgments, contained in his introduction, are very skimpy. He offers thanks to "my friends," but mentions only one by name. The others he thanks by name are his wife and two editors and his agent. (Among those he leaves out is Peter Osnos, a legendary New York editor and publisher, who had met with him and bought the book.)

I’m saying that Obama’s stingy about sharing credit. The most egregious instance of this is his description of taking a friend to the play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, by the poet Ntozake Shange. Obama quotes three passages from the play, 18 lines in all. He does not say the name of the play or the author’s name. I only know that it’s Shange’s play because I googled a couple lines. Obama doesn’t even say it’s a play at first–but says it was "a meeting" he wanted to bring his friend to.

This is an insult to the writer whose words he’s borrowed; it goes against literary convention, and perhaps copyright law too. When you quote a writer, especially at length, you give the writer credit. There’s no mention of Shange’s name or play on the copyright page either. Weird.

In this piece in October 2006, Peter Osnos was sharply critical of how Obama conducted his literary affairs: "[H]e displayed ambition, real talent, luck, ruthlessness,
and, in my view, questionable judgment about using public service as a
personal payday." Osnos noted that this first book, which I adore, was published in 1995 and was "a modest success." (First editions sell for $1000 and up now.) Then nine years later Obama ran for the Senate in Illinois and gave the electrifying keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. His book was reissued, became a bestseller. The "About the Author" page states: "Barack Obama is the U.S. senator from Illinois." Strange; he’s not the only senator. And Sen. Dick Durbin is senior. A little Oedipal, that.

"Now comes the part in which Obama showed a steely side and displayed an element of character which,
while completely legal and entirely within his rights as a writer,
makes me uneasy," Osnos wrote. After his book exploded, Obama dropped his literary agent, Jane Dystel, whom he had praised in Dreams From My Father‘s introduction for her "faith and tenacity," for Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who also represents the Clintons. Obama wanted to pay an hourly rate rather than an agent’s 15 percent, Osnos speculates. Obama signed a multi-million-dollar, two-book deal in the interval between  his election in November 2004 and his swearing-in in January, parlaying public service into personal gain in a way that Osnos criticizes–and that of course the Clintons cannot!

The best judge of political character I know, Peter Kaplan of the Observer, told me a year ago that Obama was great because he is cold. "And Jack Kennedy was cold, too." My own sense is that other individuals don’t fully register emotionally in Obama’s consciousness, they’re expendable, he’s arrogant, lacks empathy.

Which may, in fact, be the character of a great leader.

29 Responses

  1. Craig
    April 22, 2008, 12:24 am

    It could be the "character of a great leader." It can also be the character of a monster. It indicates a sort of amorality (not something I necessarily disapprove of) that allows him to do whatever it takes to get accomplish whatever he intends. If it's like JFK, it's also like Nixon; and both of those men were more complex, and their Presidencies less one-sided, than popular culture often acknowledges.

    What bugs me about Obama is his apparent willingness to say anything to get elected — or is it just that some wishful thinking has been run over by the reality truck? If his recent remarks about our special relationship with Israel aren't totally disingenuous pandering that he has no intention of living up to in office, then the idea that he'll be sympathetic to the Palestinians has been shot down pretty thoroughly. Either way, I'm not too pleased.

    I get the impression that you support Obama because of the good things you hope he'll do. What bugs me is that I don't know what bad things he might do. While I don't much care for Hillary, I think she's a better-understood option than Obama is.

  2. Steve
    April 22, 2008, 12:28 am

    While I'm an Obama supporter, your description of him doesn't sound too appealing to me.

    Since both Obama and Hillary have become the yardsticks of comparison between each other, I can only say that a belief that friends are expendable sounds familiar to any who have followed the Clintons.

    Not that such traits are particularly important–I'm more interested in policy and the ability to effect policy than whether or not I would want a candidate as a buddy.

    Face it, too–anyone who would put themselves through the meatgrinder of a presidential election by definition imho must be somewhat of an oddball.

  3. Chuck
    April 22, 2008, 1:31 am

    I recently listened, as best I could while working on some other project, to a guest on NPR posit that the 2 most essential traits of a great leader were first, character, and second, judgement. The essentials of character in this regard are setting a great example or otherwise, 'walking the walk'.

    Obama may have some claim to the later; his career climbing judgements look spectacular. But as to his character, I don't see it. He is a spinoff from the Chicago Machine and greasy from Tony Rezko's palms.

    There is no hope for America unless we start seeing a degree of honesty in the executive branch and there's not much evidence that any of the 3 bring it.

  4. americangoy
    April 22, 2008, 1:41 am

    "I think Barack Obama is our Jesus, he's going to save America."

    Perhaps this is going a wee bit too far there :-)

    Myself, being a cynical bastard, will see that even if a miracle happens and a black man is elected a president of America, the same policies will continue, re: support of Israel, predatory IMF and World Bank policies, etc.

    The social programs in America might get a boost, so yeah… Jesus…

  5. bar_kochba132
    April 22, 2008, 2:24 am

    Phil, I have to give you credit for being honest about Obama, knowing how much you love him and attribute to him messianic qualities (why, I don't know…Hitler was a great speaker also).

    Regarding the comment about "character" that was made above, I can only point out that today, it seems people don't want a politician with that quality, they prefer "sure, he is a liar and a cheat, but he gets things done!". That is why all the liberal feminists stuck with Slick Willy Clinton, even when they found out how he treated women like garbage.
    It is important to remember something….people said "Sure, Kennedy is a maniacal womanizer, but that is nobody else's business". I would like to ask those who agree with this the following question: How can you put YOUR trust in someone who is willing to deceive and betray those people closest to him? If he is willing to betray his wife and children, why do you think he wouldn't do the same to the "anonymous masses"?

  6. bar_kochba132
    April 22, 2008, 2:25 am

    Phil, I have to give you credit for being honest about Obama, knowing how much you love him and attribute to him messianic qualities (why, I don't know…Hitler was a great speaker also).

    Regarding the comment about "character" that was made above, I can only point out that today, it seems people don't want a politician with that quality, they prefer "sure, he is a liar and a cheat, but he gets things done!". That is why all the liberal feminists stuck with Slick Willy Clinton, even when they found out how he treated women like garbage.
    It is important to remember something….people said "Sure, Kennedy is a maniacal womanizer, but that is nobody else's business". I would like to ask those who agree with this the following question: How can you put YOUR trust in someone who is willing to deceive and betray those people closest to him? If he is willing to betray his wife and children, why do you think he wouldn't do the same to the "anonymous masses"?

  7. bar_kochba132
    April 22, 2008, 2:27 am

    Apologies on the multiple posting, something went haywire with the connection.

  8. Richard Witty
    April 22, 2008, 7:17 am

    A human being, with light and shadow.

    Lets help him stay on the positive, on the productive, the important.

  9. Vera Beaudin
    April 22, 2008, 8:14 am

    Obama is your Jesus? I'm not surprised given another recent symptom of this proclivity. Michael Freund, is also an American Jew. Educated at Columbia and Princeton universities, he moved to Israel where he served as a deputy director in the ministry of communications and policy planning under Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Currently a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Freund penned this plea to President Bush to attack Iran. Here’s the gist of it:
    “Mr. President, I am gripped by a sense of fear. I fear for the future of Israel and the entire Jewish people, as the would-be Hitler of Persia readies to do battle against us with the most horrific of weapons. I fear for the future of the West, because few seem to appreciate the enormity of the danger that is looming just over the Horizon. And I fear for the future of the world…
    “Hence, Mr. President, I am writing to you because I am convinced that you do understand the gravity of the situation, and I pray in my heart that you will not let it stand. I appeal to you now, not as a newspaper columnist nor as a political analyst, but as one man of faith to another. Please bomb Iran and dismantle its nuclear weapons program, before it is too late.
    “I know you believe, as I do, that it is the Lord God of Hosts Who guides the destiny of men and of nations. And I know you believe, just as I do, that He has raised you up and placed you in a position of power precisely at this decisive moment, in order to serve as His faithful instrument in this world. The God of history has chosen you, Mr. President, just as He did Winston Churchill, and He has entrusted you with a sacred mandate: to save the world from the designs of a madman…
    “Mr. Bush, I think of you often, and when I do, I am guided in faith to the sixth chapter of the Book of Judges in the Bible. When Israel’s existence was threatened by the Midianites, God called upon Gideon, son of Joash, to step forward and take command, and to wage war against the aggressors. But Gideon remained uncertain of what to do, wondering whether God had forsaken His people and if war was truly the right course. To this the Lord responded clearly and univocally: “Go with this, your strength, and you will save Israel…for have I not sent thee?”
    “Mr. President, that message is as compelling today as it was then, and I believe it is clearly directed to you too…You have been entrusted from Above with a special opportunity, with a distinctive role to play. It is a tremendous responsibility that the Creator has placed upon your shoulders, but it is also a sacred mandate. I do not envy the dilemma that you face. But you have been put in a unique position to bless Israel, and through it, all of humanity, by removing the nuclear sword from the hand of the Persian executioner… Be strong and of good courage. And may the spirit of the Lord be upon you. God bless.” (Jerusalem Post 1.9.08) It takes no divine revelation to see that we have met a madman, and he doesn’t live in Tehran or in Texas.
    (Kurdish Life No. 64, Fall 2007)

  10. Mac
    April 22, 2008, 8:18 am

    Phillip,

    While I am a big admirer of Obama, your analysis of Obama's character is the most original and interesting I have read yet. I have not lost my enthusiaism for him, but I am now going to be watching him with less of a glazed look in my eyes.

  11. bondo
    April 22, 2008, 9:04 am

    nader
    paul
    mckinney
    gravel

    well, the msm has, will ignore, destroy the possibilities of the above.

    obama, i reckon is the candidate for me. mccain can return to his tiger cage in vietnam and hillary can join him. they make double wides now.

  12. Rowan Berkeley
    April 22, 2008, 9:06 am

    you're a disgusting hypocrite, phil – how DARE you make amateur psychological small talk about black theater.

  13. Jim Haygood
    April 22, 2008, 9:45 am

    .

    "[Obama's] book is concerned with identity and paternity only."

    Since I NEVER read books by politicians, the summary is much appreciated. A closely parallel and more rewarding search for identity by a mixed-race author can be found in Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Like Obama, both the author and the fictional protaganist Janie Crawford were the product of mixed marriages. Janie is abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother.

    At the conclusion of Janie's lyrical trek across rural Florida during the course of three marriages (the second to a civic-booster local politician), she ends up making an accommodation similar to Obama's. Intellectually, she identifies with the prevailing white culture: a white court of law acquits her of accusations leveled by the black community. But culturally, musically, linguistically, and in terms of her love interests, she identifies as black.

    A high point of the novel is when Janie's politician husband, Mayor Joe Starks, delivers a comical eulogy for the town's deceased mascot, a mule. "He stood on the distended belly of the mule for a platform and made gestures." You just know Barack is going to try this feat some day, to wow the rural vote.

  14. sword of gideon
    April 22, 2008, 10:07 am

    "The Black Jesus who is going to save America" Leaving aside the fact that the real black Jesus was Earl Monroe, #15 of the Knicks don't any of you great intellects think that this is a little strange to say. Just a little>

  15. LeaNder
    April 22, 2008, 10:38 am

    I found this interesting, Rowan. You elect a president and not a saint. I can understand your reservations concerning psychological layers though, although they are interesting for the reader.

    He is a human being on its way to the top of the world; so what do you expect? Or is he devising a new 21st century political theology? The President's Two Bodies?

    The US election process takes care they all have their debts of gratitude.

    It's probably hard enough to dissect the rumor mills. One of the most diligent collectors of anti-Obama lore. Hank Roth, and a Clinton adorer it seems. [one of my best webfriends seems to be?)

    link to inyourface.info

    link to tinyurl.com

    link to questia.com

  16. Jim Haygood
    April 22, 2008, 10:51 am

    .

    The marriage of Obama's parents would have been illegal under the Jim Crow miscegenation laws of the American South. But it also would have been, and STILL WOULD BE, illegal in Israel. From Wikipedia:

    "Israeli marriage licenses are recognized only if performed under an official recognized religious authority (whether it be Orthodox Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, etc.) only between a man and a woman of the same religion."

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    Since Barack's father was a non-practicing Muslim, and his mother a non-practicing daughter of non-practicing Christian parents, they wouldn't have qualified for religious marriage in Israel.

    Would Barack keep on sending $3 billion a year to a country that wouldn't solemnize his parents' marriage? Sadly, the answer is probably "yes." That doesn't mean that the rest of us shouldn't bitch and whine to our heart's content about subsidizing Israel's hardball segregationist state.

  17. Charles Keating
    April 22, 2008, 11:32 am

    SO, is endogamy the most significant feature of long-term group survival? The USA is a short aberration in the long reach of history, and where it's going? The opponent, individualism, is by its nature, not a strong political?

  18. nitwit
    April 22, 2008, 12:14 pm

    Clinton to Iran: 'We will obliterate You'

    link to richardsilverstein.com

    link to de.youtube.com

    OLBERMANN: But this is far, in this sense, if the heading is Iran/Middle East, this is far further to the right than John McCain. This may be far further to the right than the Bush administration policy about the Middle East, which you didn't think was physically possible. Who on Earth, from that political point of view, who could she be appealing to with this? I mean, the superdelegates are going to say, "This is how we win. We elect a Republican calling herself a Democrat. That's how to do it."

    MADDOW: Well, yes. I mean, there is a school of thought that says in order for a Democrat to win a presidential election, the Democrat has to be even more hawkish than the Republican in the race. That is a school of thought that I don't ascribe to, but it is a Democratic school of thought. But, you know, even if you once believed that, even if you, you know, looked at the legacy of JFK in order to come to that conclusion, now, in the era of the long war, the Global War on Terror, there's going to be more wars, my friends, and the hundred, thousand, ten thousand year Iraq deployment, I think that this hawkishness common wisdom is drying up. And a Democrat might make some more headway this year by describing American strength and security and leadership that is smarter and less apocalyptic than the constant war model.

  19. Phil Weiss
    April 22, 2008, 12:18 pm

    SOG:
    Earl Monroe played first for the Baltimore Bullets, my team, before your team stole him.
    I am still angry about this. Very angry,
    Phil

  20. Wes
    April 22, 2008, 12:24 pm

    In case you weren't already aware that you're featured with VNN, here is the link.

    link to vnnforum.com

    I'm sorry you're associated with such low lifes, but I'm not overly surprised they have adopted you. They seek simplistic conspiratorial frameworks, and you provide them with their favorite.

  21. Leila Abu-Saba
    April 22, 2008, 2:16 pm

    My problem with your hyperbolic language about Obama – he is your "Jesus" – is that of course if you project all these expectations on him, he is going to fail to meet those. Already you have noticed that he is not perfectly loving as Jesus is/was.

    Obama may very well be cold and not personally interested in human beings – his concern for justice may be more intellectual and global – a classic do-gooder syndrome. I don't mind. The leader of the "free world" needs to be a bit of an aristocrat (he's an aristocrat via the meritocracy, a seeming contradiction) and the "coldness" I think is also important. He has to be unflappable in the face of enormous pressure.

    But Jesus? No, he's not Jesus. He just follows Jesus' teachings about the poor and the way to change as best he can (resist not evil, turn the other cheek, focus on love and the positive vision of change, not on contending with your adversary).

    If you set him up too high then you will find yourself bitterly resenting him later when he fails to meet your unreasonable expectations.

  22. nitwit
    April 22, 2008, 2:35 pm

    Hmmm? Hillary definitively is amused by Keith Olberman's questions:

    link to undercoverblackman.blogspot.com

  23. Todd
    April 22, 2008, 7:40 pm

    "The marriage of Obama's parents would have been illegal under the Jim Crow miscegenation laws of the American South."

    I'm not sure what the unique sins of the South are, but the region's sins aren't so great as to make it comparable to Israel- or even the United States as a whole.

  24. Jim Haygood
    April 22, 2008, 7:57 pm

    .

    Not what I meant to imply, Todd — sorry for being unclear. The South has atoned for its sins by repealing those laws; Israel hasn't. It's mired in a past that the U.S. left behind decades ago.

    I've got the Bonnie Blue flag pasted on the back bumper of my truck.

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  25. the Sword of Gideon
    April 22, 2008, 11:13 pm

    Looks like Jesus fell a little short in Pennsylvania. Must have been the JEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. MM
    April 23, 2008, 12:36 am

    "The Black Jesus who is going to save America" Leaving aside the fact that the real black Jesus was Earl Monroe, #15 of the Knicks don't any of you great intellects think that this is a little strange to say. Just a little>

    Posted by: sword of gideon | April 22, 2008 at 07:07 AM

    Leaving aside that the real black Jesus was Jesus (7-2 BCE – 26-38? CE),

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I think a more fitting basketball nickname for Barack would be White Chocolate.

    An astute Harvard Law Review president gets a book deal and markets himself as an African-American, when the guy has as much in common culturally and socially with most African Americans as Barbara Bush.

    The obstacles Obama encountered due to race really pale in comparison with the real institutional shackles a majority of black Americans still wear, namely access to education and capital.

    Far from wondering about how to pay the rent, or who's gonna bail his kid out of jail, Obama's got 43 million in quarters, and he's about to throw it all into the media slotmachine that decides the president nowadays.

    And he didn't get any of it slangin' rock, playing professional sports, rappin over a booty bass track or heading Chevron's committee on public policy, as most black millionaires are wont.

    Nope, he got all that bank as a gift, a gift!, from the largest banks in the world and the largest speculators and the most prestigious universities in the world! No doubt black Americans can really relate to that!

    White Chocolate: yes, they call it chocolate. But where's the cocoa?

  27. Charles Keating
    April 24, 2008, 1:43 pm

    No, just Hillary telling her goy masses she'd obliterate Iran in a nano second if Israel was threatened. Go, doofus Marines!

  28. Q
    November 8, 2008, 5:16 am

    I love the guy, but everything you've said here jibes with my observations about him. Cerebral and inverted as hell.

  29. mbs
    July 7, 2009, 8:59 pm

    The description of the white girl Obama supposedly loved, including her family background and the house built by her father's grandfather, sounds a lot like Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers' former girlfriend who was killed in a bomb blast. Makes you wonder.

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