Writer-Politicians—Barack Obama And Jim Webb
June 04, 2008, 04:38 PM
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I bought the latest book by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), A Time To Fight. It has a lot of good things in it, but the prose style is mediocre, and downright terrible when compared to Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, which was published at about the same time in their Senate careers. I was wondering if Webb's prose is usually mediocre, or did he rush this out without polishing the prose because he's being paid by the taxpayers to be a Senator, not a writer working for his own profit?

Also, Greg Ransom has found another reporter who went to Hawaii (it's a tough job, but somebody has got to do it) to interview Obama's prep school classmates. They've tracked down the third black student at Punahou, and like the second (who was also half Japanese), he says:

"Peterson and other buddies say Obama never spoke of the turmoil he revealed in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father," in which he wrote about wrestling with his racial identity and using drugs — including marijuana and cocaine — to "push questions of who I was out of my mind.""

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported back in March:

Obama appears to know the value of striking such contrasts. When he wrote his memoir, which he invokes on the campaign trail as the key to his thinking, he used literary devices to create several characters that were quick to see racial injustice. In the narrative, they serve as his foils.

Some of Obama’s friends who appear as composite characters with fictional names said he gave them far sharper and more militant attitudes than they recall having.

Kakugawa, identified in the book as “Ray,” the resentful black high school friend, is a part Japanese, part Native American former classmate who says he was nowhere near as angry as the character Obama portrays.

“It makes me a very bitter person,” Kakugawa said. “I wasn’t that bitter.”

The same is true for a Chicago activist who encountered Obama in his years as a community organizer.

The activist is identified in the book as “Rafiq al-Shabazz,” a Nation of Islam follower who encouraged Obama to challenge the city’s white power structure rather than work within it.

Obama writes of working with “Rafiq” to open a job training center, but recoiling when his more militant colleague railed against whites. “Rafiq” told Obama that, growing up in the projects, “I’d soaked up all the poison the white man feeds us.”

But black nationalist teachings “contradicted the morality my mother had taught me,” Obama wrote.

Activist Salim Al Nurridin says Obama’s description fits him in almost every way – except that he was never a black nationalist.

“I wasn’t promoting a black nationalist agenda, and I’m not promoting one now,” said Al Nurridin, now a Chicago healthcare advocate, who confirmed in an interview last year that he resembled “Rafiq.” “I think … his interpretation of where I was coming from was probably skewed by his own position rather than what I was saying.”

Al Nurridin said he actually agreed with many of Obama’s conclusions about how some aspects of black nationalism could be counterproductive.

“You can be for your people without being against other people,” Al Nurridin said. “The whole idea is to have relationships with all walks of life.”

By that time, Obama’s way of reacting to outspoken activists was not a new development.

Obama wrote of being deeply impressed by the autobiography of Malcolm X, whose “repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words … promised a new and uncompromising order.”

In other words, by projecting his own inner racial anger onto real people who didn't, actually, share it, Obama was doing two things:

A. Allowing himself to express one side of himself, a side that he didn't actually express to his friends because that might make them not like him, and they'd at least laugh at how self-pitying he was.

B. Positioning himself to whites as the moderate savior who could keep all this pent-up black rage roiling the ghettos of Hawaii from blowing up on them.

In summary, Obama is best perceived as a gifted fiction writer who has found a more profitable outlet for his talent in politics. He can be compared to Disraeli, a bestselling novelist before becoming Prime Minister. He can be contrasted with Gore Vidal, another fictioneer who felt he deserved to be President. But while Obama has been jet-propelled by being part black, Vidal was frustrated in his political ambitions by being homosexual.