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?