COMMENTARY: The White House has a few reasons to be worried about David Maraniss’ new book, “Barack Obama: The Story,” and yes, Michelle Obama is one of those reasons, but that’s for a separate discussion. It seems odd, but not surprising from a publicity and sales perspective, that the book would be released June 19, ahead of the presidential election in November. I guess, David Maraniss is President Obama’s David, in the story of David vs. Goliath. The fallout has started and we have now learned that Obama fabricated the story of his girlfriends in his memoir. You know, he said the girlfriend was a composite of all his girlfriends. Huh? In other words, the book seems to refute the self-portrait he skillfully wove for himself in 1995 with “Dreams of My Father.” I am taking a position that many in the black community would not dare take or even question Obama’s motives, but I believe this book is an eye-opener into the very essence of this man, who won us all over with the slogan, “change you can believe in.”
David Maraniss is a very credible source, having won a Pulitzer Prize (for his biography on Bill Clinton) and has a long and storied journalism career. You see, Maraniss, a former Washington Post reporter, isn’t a Matt Drudge or Andrew Breitbart (legacy) looking the break the next scandal, but a biographer who aims to capture the essence of those whose lives he delves into, for insight and understanding of those subjects. He isn’t a hack looking for his 15 minutes of fame. On that basis, he can’t be dismissed. He shouldn’t. The president is concerned about the backlash that could come from this book, so much so that he granted David Maraniss a 90-minute interview in the Oval Office. Yeah, he wanted to have his side of the story articulated to the nth degree. President Obama comes across as a control freak and this book would take him out of his comfort zone because he can’t control what is written and how it is received.
David Maraniss said, “I have done extensive research for all of his years leading up the White House and intend to write another volume, but not for many years — after more documents open up and the story of his presidency settles somewhat. I want to write for history, not for the moment.” Therein lies the problem the book will create for President Obama. He doesn’t want to be nailed down and that will take him off his message and force him to recenter himself.
I will be the first to admit, I drank the Obama Kool-Aid during the 2008 presidential campaign. I had initially supported Hillary Clinton because of what she represented to me and the familiarity with the Clinton legacy. But after the Iowa caucus, I started to take a second look at then-candidate Barack Obama. He masterfully weaved a fantasy that many believed in and hoped that their children could aspire to be just like him, from rags to riches. A story of defying the odds in a country that had such a horrific history of racial injustice and discrimination — first the Native American Indians and then blacks.
When former president Bill Clinton referred to his stance on the war as a fairy tale, it enraged many blacks because they thought he was being slighted because of his race. Bill Clinton’s exact words were “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” That comment marked the end of the “love affair” between the Clintons and the black community. During the 2008 Democratic primary, senior advisers to Hillary Clinton complained that they weren’t running against Barack Obama the guy. His record, policies and résumé was awfully thin and the fact that he could sustain a respectable candidacy was mindboggling and a “fairy tale.” They said, “We’re not running against a real person,” one of them said at the time. “We are running against a story.”
President Obama and his team put together a tremendously successful political marketing campaign in 2008, and we all fell in love with him. Many weak at the knees when he graced any stage. Young women went nuts, like “Obama Girl.” On a serious note, he served as a metaphor that America had finally become a post-racial society in which a man of mixed race and socioeconomic standing could become our president. While I don’t think America is in the post-racial era, I do think he unified this country after he won the election. Momentarily.
David Maraniss’ new book may not be a game changer for the presidential election in terms of votes because Mitt Romney is at a deficit with women, youth, black and Hispanic voters. But it may change the way people view Barack Obama, the person. I find it somewhat disturbing and disquieting that President Obama couldn’t bear to tell his story about his early years as it was, not to use a composite sketch of the woman in his life — Genevieve Cook. He applied “personal compression” to his personal and political narrative. Shouldn’t people be a little unnerved by that revelation? He couldn’t bring himself to talk about the women, Genevieve Cook, Alex McNear and any other woman he had a relationship with before Michelle Obama, but to create a narrative about them as he saw fit. Well, what else has he compressed in his journey through life?
Genevieve Cook wrote in her dairy on March 9, 1984, she had “a sense of you [Barack] biding your time and drawing others’ cards out of their hands for careful inspection — without giving too much of your own way — played with a good poker face. … I feel that you carefully filter everything in your mind and heart — legitimate, admirable, really. … But there’s something also there of smoothed veneer, of guardedness … I’m still left with this feeling of … a bit of a wall — the veil.” Um, that’s what we are left with and that’s why this book is worrisome to the White House. What else is behind that veil Mr. President?