Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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What Did Obama Know About Himself and When did He Know it?

“When classmates in college asked me just what it was a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly. Instead, I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White house, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.

“That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.”

In this self-deprecating account of how he came to his calling, Barack Obama now identifies this choice as “part of that larger narrative,” more an “impulse, like a salmon swimming blindly upstream toward the site of his own conception.” But now his whimsy, written when he was 33, has become his signature theme! (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance [1995, 2004], 133-134). Who’s he snickering at now?

As a politician Barack Obama has been creative and resourceful. But his mind has been predictable in the sense that we have had laid out for us his intelligence and insight, as well as his blindness and hubris-—by himself. Indeed, early in 2008 in A Bound Man: Why We are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, Shelby Steele saw a tragedy in the making, a Zelig, a protean character who tries to live in too many worlds at once--“an iconic figure who neglected to become himself.” (And of course Sarah Palin accused him of running for president in order to discover who he is.)

But Dreams from My Father is of greater significance than the Palin riff on it; if that were all to it, Obama’s excellent Socratic adventure would not have carried him this far. This elegant, compelling work is a fountain of insight into his mind. (These recently raised authorship issues, while worth pursuing, are not relevant to my analysis.) Since he may well be our next President, we are obliged to ask: What did he know about himself, and when did he know it? The fact that he admits he makes some things up (xvii) does not compromise the book’s importance as his narrative, his love-song to his bi-racial, far-flung family, “an honest account of a particular province of my life.” And in fact Dreams from My Father is an insightful book on race and American life.

In the course of several postings on his book, I’ll compare it with other notable autobiographies, including the recent one by Clarence Thomas. I’ll note the significance of both the Declaration of Independence and of the now-notorious Reverend Wright (his declaration of dependence). I will bring forth the book’s (and its author’s) underlying theme, its post-modern pathos. This intellectual radicalism, not his connections with William Ayers, etc., is the fundamental problem with Obama. His conception of himself and the country he would lead make him misunderstand it. More an Oedipous than a Socrates, he is crippled in his capacity to protect and defend his country.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Look forward to your posts, but the sad truth is that they are likely too late; with less than a month before the election, there has been nothing like them to date. Indeed, with the exception of a handful of columnists (Coulter comes immediately to mind), no one has used the wealth of raw material Obama has given us to understand his dangerous, revolutionary mindset.

Jim, the problem for the McCain campaign is translating what we discover through simply reading his book into politically useful argument. Palin got it, with her ridicule of his Socratic adventure, and Giuliani with his mockery of "community organizer"--appropriate since Obama mocks himself. McCain senses a problem with this guy, but he's unable to articulate it. But we have to know what we're living with after November, too.

Hatchet book reviews on a right-wing blog. Mom must be proud. Looking for further literary insights from Coulter and Palin.

Priceless headline, Ken.

And though Shelby Steele has been regretting his subtitle since six months ago when it became clear that Obama would at least come very close, it really is a worthwhile book. Less of about the relevance of the Zelig-like journey, (hyperbole, as Zelig-like he ain't--too dedicated to progressive nostrums) and more about his (still exploitable) need for black-identity authenticity. I'll also say that a lil fling with Alinksy-ism ain't the worst thing a youngster can do, and that the Democratic Socialists of America were a good leftist group, very much not given to the Chomskyite hate that others Americans who adopted the left title were. McCain is right that the issue here is Obama's duplicity about his past relations/connections and the unabashedly hateful pedigree (Wright, Ayers) of some of them, not the fact that (gasp) the man was more leftist than he is now.

I think it's high time for HUSSEIN Obama to come clean about his role in the 9/11 attacks.

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