Political Surprise: Dreams From My Father: Barack Obama is a real person and a real writer

For many months I’ve resisted the urge to read either of Senator Obama’s books, particularly the first, “Dreams from My Father,” the memoir written before he became a political candidate. Why? Because I had thrown in my hat, such as it is, with Senator Clinton, and was afraid that I would be so moved by Senator Obama’s memoir that it would undermine my support of Senator Clinton.

Fifteen years ago on the eve of publication of my second novel, in response to a moment in which I expressed grave self-doubt, an editor at Dutton named Michaela Hamilton kindly reassured me that I was a “real writer.” I think I suspected that I would find in Senator Obama’s memoir akind of kindred spirit, a “real writer”, to use Michaela’s words, someone to whom the “‘real writer” in me could truly relate, someone who understands what it takes to search one’s own soul honestly and carefully and accurately, and put that search on the page. Now that I’ve finally read the book, I find that my concerns were well founded. I have discovered not only a “real writer,” but someone who by breadth and depth and force of his personality and background, and by brilliance, honesty, clear thinking, and sheer talent, has rendered my past support of Senator Clinton, an admirable person in many respects, irrelevant.

The memoir is remarkable, and not only because it was written by a politician. The man is a real person–authentic, self-aware, probing, searching, honest with himself and with us, willing to be vulnerable, and most important, able to offer us a big piece of his interior life on his journey of self-discovery, not some made-up, faux patriotic, self-serving, self-deluding version of his interior life, but the real thing. Given the ghost-written pabulum served up by so many other politicians, “Dreams From My Father” is a revelation, a call to action, a sanctuary of hope that this man really can begin to build bridges across cultures and countries, and change the world. At the risk of sounding like I’ve bought into a cult of personality, I’ll say that I believe the country and the world needs such a man. How refreshing and different and hopeful it would be to have him as President.

What politician has ever, or would ever write these words?

“Sometimes I would find myself talking to Ray about white folks this or white folks that, and I would suddenly remember my mother’s smile and the words that I spoke would seem awkward and false. Or I would be helping Gramps dry the dishes after dinner and Toot would come into say she was going to sleep, and those same words–white folks–would flash in my head like a bright neon sign, and I would suddenly grow quiet, as if I had secrets to keep.”

Or report the following outburst out of the mouth of a young friend, chastising the future candidate for sucking up:

…All that stuff about ‘Yes, Miss Snooty Bitch, I just find this novel so engaging, if I can just have one more day for that paper, I’ll kiss your white ass.’ It’s their world, all right? They own it, and we in it. So just get the fuck outta my face.”

Or present us with this wonderful paragraph?

Three o’clock in the morning. The moon-washed streets empty, the growl of a car picking up speed down a distant road. The revelers would be tucked away by now, paired off or alone, in deep, beer-heavy sleep, Hasan at his new lady’s place–don’t stay up, he had said with a wink. And now just the two of us to wait for the sunrise, me and Billie Holiday, her voice warbling through the darkened room, reaching toward me like a lover.”

The contrast with other “political” memoirs is, of course, astounding. I won’t dwell on that, however, except to point out the most compelling disparity, the one between this man, Barack Obama, and our current President, George Bush, who is revealed in Scott McClellan’s new book, “What Happened.” Here’s Jake Tapper, ABC News Political Correspondent, quoting the McClellan book on the ABC News Blog, Political Punch:

In 1999, at a hotel suite “somewhere in the Midwest,” McClellan recalls the Bush mind when dealing with rumors that the then-Texas governor had used cocaine.

Writes McClellan: “‘The media won’t let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,’ I heard Bush say. ‘You know, the truth is I honestly don’t remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don’t remember.’

“I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Neither will I dwell on Mr. McClellan offering us the obvious as if it were a GREAT REVELATION, giving us what would and should have been self-evident to anyone in the President’s inner circle who values truth, law and country. And obviously Mr. McClellan has yet to completely accept the extent to which he was duped, as he is STILL defending George Bush, giving him and his cohorts the “benefit of the doubt.” According to yesterday’s post by Johnathan Martin at Politico.com, McClellan claims he still has “respect for Bob Dole,” who called him a “miserable creature.” I’m sorry, but the country should come first, and in the face of impeachable lawlessness and treachery on the part of any Administration, the correct response is not to keep quiet and keep loyal, but to speak out in a timely manner. I suspect Mr. McClellan’s respect for these people won’t last long, since they’re bound to keep on slinging mud at him, although I’m not sure of that. McCain, after all, now embraces George Bush, the man who smeared him in 2000.

In any case, the salient question here is, “Can one even imagine George Bush, the dry-drunk president who “gave up” drinking after one beach walk with Billy Graham, the man who would say to a person in his inner circle that he doesn’t remember whether he did cocaine or not, writing a book like “Dreams from my Father?” Such an image is a John Stewart joke.

Although I was always uncomfortable with her vote on the war, I supported Senator Clinton, and even joined her National Council of Civic Leaders, mostly because I thought she had the better chance of winning, but also because I think she’s smart and capable. I still think so. SHE obviously still thinks she has better chance of winning, but I no longer care. I have to believe that Senator Obama will beat McCain too, even though are many signs that this is going to be very difficult. Not the least of these signs is the dreadful whisper campaign about Obama in the blogosphere. Another factor is that I’m not 100% sure Mrs. Clinton will be able to bring herself to calm down her supporters who are threatening to abandon the party if Obama is the candidate.

Right now though, I just want the primaries over. And I would say to Senator Clinton, “With all due respect, even if you win the popular vote and you’ve won the key swing states, you’ve still lost, because we do elections based on delegates, as chaotic and imperfect as that is.” A retrofit now would be almost (read: “almost”) as bad as the Supreme Court’s self-serving imposition of its partisan will in the matter of Bush v. Gore, that is to say it would be illegal and disingenuous and dangerous.

In any case, as a writer and as a human being, I’m now supporting Obama. Some will question or even mock my contention that a “real writer,” or even a “great writer” translates into a “great” or even a “competent” President, but the book has made me trust the man and his judgment in a way I’ve never trusted any politician. I admit this view reflects the shreds of my lost idealism, and requires that I stuff my cynicism down, but after the nightmare of the last seven years, the country and the world would, in my view, benefit from having so clear-thinking, clear-eyed a man in charge. And as for me, I can’t wait to read the Senator’s second book.

One thought on “Political Surprise: Dreams From My Father: Barack Obama is a real person and a real writer

  1. Fran,
    I have yet to read Obamas book but it is on my list. I feel exactly the way you do-I have felt that we are dealing with the real deal-I have also flipped candidates the way you have.
    Many kudos-my first time on a blog and so clearly could not have commented.

    I also look forward to reading Saving Elijah.

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