Excellent Insights into Barack Obama
I rarely post something unrelated at all to economics.
But I’m posting this. It’s a long article by David Samuels titled “The Obama Factor.” It ends with a long interview that Samuels does with historian David Garrow, who wrote a biography of Obama titled Rising Star. One thing to be aware of is that Samuels’s questions are in bold and Garrow’s answers aren’t. That confused me after a while because the questions, though typically interesting and informative, are often longer than the answers.
There are so many excerpts to quote.
I’ll settle for two.
There is a fascinating passage in Rising Star, David Garrow’s comprehensive biography of Barack Obama’s early years, in which the historian examines Obama’s account in Dreams from My Father of his breakup with his longtime Chicago girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager. In Dreams, Obama describes a passionate disagreement following a play by African American playwright August Wilson, in which the young protagonist defends his incipient embrace of Black racial consciousness against his girlfriend’s white-identified liberal universalism. As readers, we know that the stakes of this decision would become more than simply personal: The Black American man that Obama wills into being in this scene would go on to marry a Black woman from the South Side of Chicago named Michelle Robinson and, after a meteoric rise, win election as the first Black president of the United States.
Yet what Garrow documented, after tracking down and interviewing Sheila Miyoshi Jager, was an explosive fight over a very different subject. In Jager’s telling, the quarrel that ended the couple’s relationship was not about Obama’s self-identification as a Black man. And the impetus was not a play about the American Black experience, but an exhibit at Chicago’s Spertus Institute about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
Garrow in the interview:
He [Obama] has no interest in building the Democratic Party as an institution. I think that’s obvious. And I don’t think he had any truly deep, meaningful policy commitments other than the need to feel and to be perceived as victorious, as triumphant. I’ve sometimes said to people that I think Barack is actually just as insecure as Trump, but in ways that are not readily perceived by the vast majority of people. I think that’s probably my most basic takeaway.
But it does go back to Dreams [of My Father] being a work of fiction, that the absence of an actual personal story makes him need to compose one. For every time he says, “Oh, I spent years reading the history of the civil rights movement,” I know he read BTC [Bearing the Cross], but I don’t think he read much else. This is someone who … 98 percent of his reading has always been fiction, not history.
There’s also a lot of good stuff I’m not allowed to quote because of Liberty Fund’s strictures on language. I’m not complaining; I think the strictures are good. I’m just reporting.
This is one of the most interesting things I’ve read this year and the most interesting thing I’ve ever read about Obama.
The stuff on Michelle is interesting too.
A very close friend of mine told me a few years ago that the only president or ex-president alive today whom he would like to have a conversation with for more than an hour was Barack Obama. I told him that the set of presidents or ex-presidents I would like to talk to for that long was null.
Read the whole thing.