A Pundit Reads (!) "Dreams From My Father"
March 13, 2008, 03:08 PM
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Mona Charen writes:

 

"In search of answers that go deeper than the Congressional Record, I read his first book, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Once you get past the happy surprise of finding a politician who can actually write, the book contains some disquieting elements.

"Obama is the product of a union between a white Kansan and a black Kenyan who met in Hawaii. I had assumed, before reading his memoir, that Obama viewed himself as a natural bridge between the races and that his message of unity sprang in part from his biology. That was wrong. From his earliest years, Obama engaged in a preoccupying internal struggle to make himself a fully authentic black man."

James Fulford points out that it's about time more pundits read the Democratic frontrunner's memoir.

I think a lot of people just assumed that what they knew about Tiger Woods — came from a stable mixed race home, didn't favor one part of his heritage over another, had a rock-solid psyche, etc. — also applied to Obama. I realize that doesn't make one bit of sense, but stupid ideas can get stuck in people's heads for stupid reasons — like all the doctors who assume that whooping cough is practically extinct because whooping cranes are practically extinct.

Charen very nicely sums up the slipperiness of the book:
"Left-wing ideas are not so much articulated in this memoir as presumed."

Which means you have to read the book to get a sense of where he's coming from. There are no soundbites in it.

You hear a lot of talk about whom Obama's role model might be: Martin Luther King? Malcolm X? Ronald Reagan? Obama's campaign kickoff rally in Springfield, Illinois last year was carefully crafted to remind voters of Abraham Lincoln.

And yet, Obama's most important role model would seem to be another Harvard Law School grad (Class of 1966), one who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court during the summer between Obama's second and third years at Harvard Law School: David Souter, the "stealth nominee" with almost no paper trail. In contrast to the outspoken Robert Bork in 1987, Souter cruised to easy approval by the Senate.

It seems silly to accuse a man who published his autobiography at age 33 of hiding his views like Souter. And yet ...

One idea I had was to take random swatches of Obama's prose from Dreams from My Father and paste it into Word and run the Spelling and Grammar checker to get Readability Statistics. My guess is that the average sentence length in Dreams is very high.

But where can I find slabs of vintage prose from a man who abhorred leaving a paper trail? I thought about checking this statistic from quotations from Dreams in my articles, but I tended to pick more easily comprehensible excerpts and/or replace unnecessary clauses with ellipses to try to make his words less eye-glazing.

All I could find online was Obama's Preface to the 2004 edition of Dreams, which may not be representative of his 1995 book, since he says in it, "I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity."

For that 2004 selection, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 12.2 (first year of college). I really don't know how the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is arrived at.

By way of comparison, Obama's 2004 Preface is rated for a lower grade level than my 2007 American Conservative article, "Obama's Identity Crisis," about the book (13.2). Interestingly, though, Obama's average sentence length is 30.4, compared to my 23.8. And that's including two comically serpentine sentences I quoted from John Updike's The Coup (average length 48 words and Grade Level of 21.1, or 6th year of postgraduate work!)