In the bitter weeks following the November election, leftists have been asking out loud how things could have gone so wrong. The simple answer is that from the very beginning of the Obama presidency they deceived themselves about their man and their mission.
Early in that presidency, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter described Obama as a “product of the great American postwar meritocracy,” one not afraid to surround himself with “extraordinarily smart men and women.”
These smart men and women routinely referred to Obama as a “genius,” even a “messiah.” By extension those who followed were the chosen people. They certainly thought they were.
So deeply did they believe in Obama’s genius and their own superiority that they refused to see what was evident to the right early on: the Obama act was an unsustainable con.
In his best-seller, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” Dinesh D’Souza attributed Obama’s anger and his anti-colonial posture to Barack Obama Sr., but D’Souza erred on both counts.
Obama shows no great rage, and the parent who shaped him was his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Although she indulged the young Obama in many ways, she failed to give him a genuine sense of who he was.
As a mixed-race child in a world with monolithic expectations, she could have infused him with the most powerful and compelling of all identities – that of an “American.” She did the opposite.
In his 1995 memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Obama told one revealing story about his mother’s allegiances. During their Indonesian years together, Dunham’s then-husband, Lolo Soetoro, asked Dunham to meet some of “her own people” at the American oil company where he worked.
She shouted at him, “They are not my people.” Obama absorbed the attitude. Even as a boy, he saw his fellow citizens abroad as “caricatures of the ugly American,” and they would not grow prettier over time.
Obama and Dunham – “a lonely witness for secular humanism,” according to her son – were hardly unique among liberals in their shared disdain.
Condescension, in fact, may be the most enduring of liberal traits. Sinclear Lewis had his “Babbitts.” H.L. Mencken had his “booboisie.” Obama would have those benighted souls in backwater Pennsylvania who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
These bitter clingers – “deplorables” in Hillary’s memorable turn of phrase – couldn’t handle the truth, certainly not the larger truth that Obama would dispense, the pravda.
When he returned to Hawaii from Indonesia as a 10-year-old, Obama struggled to define who he was. Given what he knew about Americans, he could have hardly wanted to be one.
So he continued to construct identities for himself appropriate for the time and place: high school stoner, college Marxist, New York intellectual, Alinskyite, Harvard cosmopolitan, Chicago ward heeler with an authentic African-American wife.
By the time of “Dreams,” Obama had picked up enough postmodern patois to rationalize these identity shifts and the lies needed to ease the transitions. The result is a biography that cannot be trusted.
Even a supportive Obama biographer like David Remnick called “Dreams” a “mixture of verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention, and artful shaping.”
Equally friendly biographer David Maraniss agreed. “The character creations and rearrangements of the book are not merely a matter of style, devices of compression, but are also substantive,” wrote Maraniss.
“We didn’t understand why his politically calculating chameleon nature was never discussed,” an aide to Hillary Clinton told Remnick. “We were said to be the chameleons, but he changed his life depending on who he was talking to.”
Obama proved such a successful fabulator only because influential white liberals like Remnick and Maraniss enabled him. He had the good fortune of growing up thinking and acting much as they had but in the body of a black man.
Ever adaptive, he believed what they believed and spoke as they spoke. They noticed, they approved, they marveled. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American presidential candidate who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” said Joe Biden of Obama in early 2007.
By the time Obama emerged as a national candidate, every major newsroom in America – save one – was chock-a-block with people who thought like Maraniss and Remnick.
As the beau ideal of progressives’ dream, Obama would enjoy an unprecedented immunity from major media criticism. This did not encourage truth telling, either by him or by the media.
In the future, Obama would improve his storytelling. To sell himself to America writ large, he would have to. He would further refine his pitchman talents to sell a center-right nation a variety of unwanted left-of-center nostrums.
As Obama sensed, his line of goods would have forever remained on the political shelf had he honored truth in labeling laws, but he did not feel the need.
His allies on the left had been finessing labels for years: racial preferences to affirmative action to diversity; abortion rights to pro-choice to reproductive rights; global warming to climate change; gay marriage to marriage equality; liberal to progressive.
Obama was simply continuing an ignoble tradition. He was able to raise the bar on mendacity for two reasons. One was obvious: The media let him. The second needs explanation.
Like any gifted sleight-of-hand artist, Obama got his audience to focus on the wrong object. The pundits debated his ideology – Marxist, socialist, progressive, pragmatist – and even his religion – Christian, Muslim, atheist – but they rarely questioned his commitment.
Although immersed in leftism since childhood, he never left the shallow end of the pool. He proved so adept at breaking promises because he did not care deeply enough to ensure they were realized.
What mattered more was that he be seen striking the right pose, finding the right groove, spinning the right narrative. As the savvier leftists have come to understand, he is not a serious man, never was.
Even before the trauma of the 2016 election, serious liberals were questioning the Obama presidency. “The transformative new era of leadership Obama promised never happened,” Bill Press lamented in his book “Buyer’s Remorse.” “His presidency looms as a huge opportunity wasted.”
And thank God for that!
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