Saturday, August 2, 2008

The audacity of the fact that too many people have already used the phrase "the audacity of Obama" for me to use it here

One of my goals for the summer was to read Barack Obama’s books, just to try to get to know what he is all about a little better. (I was also planning to read at least something by McCain, but I’m quickly running out of summer- but I feel like McCain doesn’t have much mystery to him, anyway) I finished The Audacity of Hope a little while ago, but it didn’t make a big impression on me. He was already involved in politics at the time, and I thought that it pretty much read like, well, like he was running for public office. An extended version of here’s my stand on this and that, if you will.

Hope was a little flat, but it was well enough written, so I had really been looking forward to Dreams from My Father. I hoped that that would give me some real insight- Obama, raw and exposed! I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed. First off, it’s not very well written. It rambles and doesn’t follow a linear pattern that makes much sense or comes to much of a logical conclusion. Second, it is incredibly self-focused. He was around my age at the time that he wrote it, and pretty much fresh out of law school, but he seems to think that by that point, he had already lived a great and important life, with so many significant experiences. Ok, sure, his life was probably more interesting than most- racial mix, lived abroad, kind of a screwed up family situation, that sort of thing. But it’s hardly the stuff of excitement. I’ve certainly known plenty of people in my own life just as interesting as the Obama from Dreams.

Third, and perhaps most grating to me is how much of the book just doesn’t ring true. Now, I’m sure that most of us have already heard of the flat out untruths in the book, such as the silly story that he told about the Life magazine article that suddenly made him aware of race, but turned out to just plan never have existed. The thing is, this book is full of things that, while not factually impossible, just aren’t beleivable, because things just don’t happen like that. For example, this story reminds me of a young adult fiction story that Teaches A Valuable Lesson about accepting people who are different:

There was one other child in my class, though , who reminded me of a different
sort of pain. Her name was Coretta, and before my arrival she had been the
only black person in our grade. She was plump and dark and didn’t seem to
have many friends. From the first day, we avoided each other but watched
from a distance, as if direct contact would only remind us more keenly of our
Finally, during recess one hot, cloudless day, we found ourselves
occupying the same corner of the playground. I don’t remember what we said
to each other, but I remember that suddenly she was chasing me around the jungle
gyms and swings. She was laughing brightly, and I teased her and dodged
this way and that, until she finally caught me and we fell to the ground
breathless. When I looked up, I saw a group of children,
faceless before the glare of the sun, pointing down at us.
has a boyfriend! Corretta has a boyfriend!”
The chants grew louder as a few
more kids circled us.
“She’s not my g-girlfriend,” I stammered.
I looked to Corretta for some assistance, but she just stood there looking down
at the ground.
“Corretta’s got a boyfriend! Why don’t you kiss
her, mister boyfriend?”
“I’m not her boyfriend!” I shouted. I
ran up to Corretta and gave her a slight shove; she staggered back and looked up
at me, but still said nothing. “Leave me alone!” I shouted again.
And suddenly Corretta was running, faster and faster, until she disappeared from
sight. Appreciateive laughs rose around me. Then the bell rang, and
the teachers appeared to round us back into class.
For the rest of the
afternoon, I was haunted by the look on Corretta’s face just before she had
started to run: her disappointment, and the accusation. I wanted to
explain to her somehow that it had been nothing personal; I’d just never had a
girlfriend before and saw no particular need to have one now. But I didn’t
even know if that was true. I knew only that it was too late for
explanations, that somehow I’d been tested and found wanting; and whenever I
snuck a glance at Corretta’s desk, I would see her with her head bent over her
work, appearing as if nothing had happened, pulled into herself and asking no

Or another story, where, as he tells it, when he heard his coach use the word “nigger*,” then brush it off by explaining that “there are black people, and there are niggers. Those guys were niggers.” Obama claims next that his response was “There are white folks, and then there are ignorant motherfuckers like you.”

Now, really? I mean, I’m sure that that was the response that he wanted to give, later, when he thought of it. I’m sure that's the response that you would have him give if you were writing a movie and he was the hero. But at the actual time, unprepared and under stress? No, nobody, not even the great Obama, comes up with a comeback response like that. It just doesn’t happen.

* No, I'm not going to call it "the N word" like we're in second grade. It's just a word, get over it.

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