It only took nearly six years for the media to begin vetting President Obama’s past.
Today, Vanity Fair released an excerpt from a new biography of Barack Obama by David Maraniss. The excerpt discusses Barack Obama’s first love affair, with a white Australian woman named Genevieve Cook. It’s a telling examination of who Obama was as a young man — and it shows a self-absorbed “internationalist” with delusions of grandeur.
The book itself sounds like an ode to Obama. Maraniss writes, “At age 20, Obama was a man of the world … He could not be of one place, rooted and provincial.” No, says Maraniss, this was a broadminded young man who “knew the ways of different cultures better than he knew himself.”
When he first moved to New York, he was in the midst of an affair with Alexandra McNear, a girl from Occidental. They exchanged a series of purple letters with one another – turgid missives from overfevered young minds. Here, for example, is tendentious Obama explaining poetry to his young girlfriend:
I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements–Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism–Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter–life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?
No doubt literary critics who love Obama will hail this as a penetrating analysis of the Poundian era. It’s more like sludge.
Nonetheless, Obama was clearly a smart guy. He was also a self-absorbed guy, writing passages like this:
Moments trip gently along over here. Snow caps the bushes in unexpected ways, birds shoot and spin like balls of sound. My feet hum over the dry walks. A storm smoothes [sic] the sky, impounding the city lights, returning to us a dull yellow glow. I run every other day at the small indoor track [at Columbia] which slants slightly upward like a plate; I stretch long and slow, twist and shake, the fatigue, the inertia finding home in different parts of the body. I check the time and growl–aargh!–and tumble onto the wheel. And bodies crowd and give off heat, some people are in front and you can hear the patter or plod of the steps behind. You look down to watch your feet, neat unified steps, and you throw back your arms and run after people, and run from them and with them, and sometimes someone will shadow your pace, step for step, and you can hear the person puffing, a different puff than yours, and on a good day they’ll come up alongside and thank you for a good run, for keeping a good pace, and you nod and keep going on your way, but you’re pretty pleased, and your stride gets lighter, the slumber slipping off behind you, into the wake of the past.
Well, then. As Maraniss admits, “Obama was the central character in his letters, in a self-conscious way, with variations on the theme of his search for purpose and self-identity.” In other words, he would have been a snore to have a beer with. He wrote a fair bit about his self-imposed isolation from society: “The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and] classes; make them mine, me theirs.” All things to all people started early with Obama. Says Maraniss, “The different path he saw for himself was to rise above the divisions of culture and society, politics and economics, and embrace something larger – embrace it all.” This is pretentious, self-aggrandizing, Walt Whitman-esque stuff.
But the heart of the Maraniss excerpt surrounds Obama’s relationship with Genevieve Cook, whom he met when he was 22 and she was 25. He picked her up at a party, and they were together for several months. Her diary is as purple as his writing:
Sunday, January 22, 1984
What a startling person Barack is–so strange to voice intimations of my own perceptions–have them heard, responded to so on the sleeve. A sadness, in a way, that we are both so questioning that original bliss is dissipated–but feels really good not to be faltering behind some façade–to not feel that doubt must be silenced and transmuted into distance.
Thursday, January 26
How is he so old already, at the age of 22? I have to recognize (despite play of wry and mocking smile on lips) that I find his thereness very threatening…. Distance, distance, distance, and wariness.
Saturday, February 25 The sexual warmth is definitely there–but the rest of it has sharp edges and I’m finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all. I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness–and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me.
This girl had clearly seen too many Woody Allen movies.
Obama wrote about Genevieve in Dreams from My Father, although he didn’t mention her by name. He even inserted incidents into their past that weren’t there, as even he admitted, playing up their racial tensions. Perhaps the most entertaining portion of this excerpt is Genevieve recounting a race she ran with Obama; after she beat him, Obama “continued to feel a bit unsettled by it all weekend … I told him I didn’t feel that good about winning, and he promptly replied probably cos of feelings of guilt about beating a man.” War on women alert!
The most telling part of this expose, however, lies in Obama’s friends and actions. All of Obama’s friends were Pakistani – Hasan Chandoo, Wahid Hamid, Sohale Siddiqi, Beenu Mahmood. As Mahmood described to Maraniss:
He could see Obama slowly but carefully distancing himself as a necessary step in establishing his political identity as an American. For years when Barack was around them, he seemed to share their attitudes as sophisticated outsiders who looked at politics from an international perspective. He was one of them, in that sense. But to get to where he wanted to go he had to change.
In other words, Obama embraced his quasi-Americanism not because he believed it, but because it was a tool to the fulfillment of his political aspirations. Obama, while he made noises about discarding leftist radicalism, continued to associate with groups like the far-left New York Public Interest Research Group.
The major takeaway from the Maraniss piece has nothing to do with Obama, however. It has to do with the media. Only after years of urging the media to vet Obama has anyone in the mainstream media begun to do it – and only after Andrew Breitbart called out the media for failing to vet him.
In the end, what we find out about Obama is what we already suspected: he was deeply narcissistic, pretentious, and in his own mind, an outsider to America. His relationship with Genevieve underscores all of that. Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t seem to have changed since those halcyon days in New York.