Obama: Insincere or not-all-that-bright?
March 27, 2007, 06:02 PM
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One of the mysteries about the Presidential candidate that emerges from closely reading his autobiography Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is whether his superb literary eye for detail is accompanied by a comparable analytical intelligence. The book is so lacking in large-scale insights about his chosen subject of race that it's easy to assume that he really does know the score, but that he's just covering up for reasons of racial and personal pride … and that when he's in the White House, he will drop all the pretense and start behaving realistically.

On the other hand, maybe he just doesn't get it. He wouldn't be the first person of high literary skill whose real world intelligence was lacking. Or maybe he's smart about everything except race, because his emotions get in the way?

Here's a representative example. In his Epilogue, the last person Obama meets in Kenya is a supposedly wise old female historian named Dr. Rukia Odero, a friend of his late father's, whom the author brings on stage at the end to enunciate the lessons of his trip to Africa:

"I asked her why she thought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. She shook her head and smiled. 'Because they come here looking for the authentic,' she said. 'That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. … Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. Our ancestors did not drink such a thing. Then there's the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple meal, you will find it very difficult to be authentic — although the meal is certainly African.'"

Now, that is so transparently bogus that it's just plain sad — the idea that the reason African-Americans are disappointed when they visit Africa is because the tea and spices turn out to be non-indigenous! Obviously, the real reason black Americans find black-ruled Africa to be disillusioning is because blacks are doing a bad job of ruling it. (See former Washington Post Africa bureau chief Keith R. Richburg's book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa for a frank description of the causes of African-American disappointment in post-colonial Africa.)

Of course, it's just plain sad that Africans are doing a lousy job of running Africa, and it's perfectly natural for an African-American to want to distract attention from that fact with the kind of trendy nonsense that will get white liberals nodding along thoughtfully: Why, yes, Africa must be just like Switzerland, which, to be frank, was rather disappointing when we visited it on the Brown U. alumni tour and I didn't see any milkmaids like in that Heidi book I loved when I was a girl. Just people dressed in Italian designer clothes driving German luxury cars. So distressingly inauthentic! But, I guess that's all part of the vibrant magic of diversity.

So, is Obama knowingly yanking our chain? Or does he just not get it?