After jetting to the Caribbean, Palm Springs and Hawaii on separate trips – what global warming? – former President Barack Obama has stolen off to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando.
There, in the kind of splendor most 1-percenters can only dream about, the Washington Post tells us that he “plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir.”
What the Post does not say is that once before in his career Obama jetted off to the South Seas – then, likely, in coach – to write an earlier memoir. That time, however, he went without a ghost and came back realizing he needed one.
In November 1992, Obama and Michelle married. After their honeymoon, in order to finish his contracted book without interruption, Obama left his bride behind and decamped to Bali for a month.
Nothing happened. His friends have been at pains to excuse his inability to honor his book deal with Simon & Schuster.
Intimate friend Valerie Jarrett would tell biographer David Remnick, “He had to come to terms with some events in his life that some people pay years of therapy to get comfortable revealing.” She adds, “The writing went slowly because everything was so raw.”
There is a simpler explanation. The writing went slowly because Obama was not a writer. (I began writing about this in 2008.)
During the 2008 presidential campaign, the New York Times ran an article on what psychologists call the “impostor phenomenon.” To measure it, they ask test subjects questions like, “At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck” or “I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.”
Although the article had nothing to do with Obama, he would surely have scored off the charts had he answered those questions honestly.
He was a reasonably bright guy but not nearly as “brilliant” as white liberals thought him to be. His “luck” derived from the fact that he grew up almost exactly as those liberals had but in the body of a black man.
Hearing him they heard themselves. Seeing him say what he said surprised them, validated them, delighted them with its freshness.
Although they would be the last to admit it, they suffered conspicuously from what George W. Bush has called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
In speaking of Obama in early 2007, Joe Biden framed those expectations with dunderheaded clarity. Said Joe, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American presidential candidate who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
The always-observant Shelby Steele summed up the phenomenon, “Blacks like Obama, who show merit where mediocrity is expected, enjoy a kind of reverse stigma, a slightly inflated reputation for ‘freshness’ and excellence because they defy expectations.”
That stigma has encouraged the faithful to think their man a much better writer than he ever was or would be. “Obama had missed deadlines and handed in bloated, yet incomplete drafts,” Remnick tells us. Bali or not, advance or no, he could not produce. He was surely in way over his head.
If Obama was slow to acknowledge his limitations, Michelle was not. She was tired of being poor – relatively speaking.
As best-selling biographer Christopher Andersen tells it, Obama found himself deeply in debt and “hopelessly blocked.” At “Michelle’s urging,” Obama “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.”
What attracted the Obamas were “Ayers’ proven abilities as a writer” as evident in his 1993 book, “To Teach.” Andersen based his account of the creation of “Dreams from My Father” on two unnamed sources within Hyde Park.
Noting that Obama had already taped interviews with many of his relatives, both African and American, Andersen elaborates, “These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.”
It was not as if Andersen confirmed Ayers’ role in passing. He spends six pages of his 2009 book “Barack and Michele: Portrait of an American Marriage” on this revelation.
Nor did Andersen have a bone to pick with the president. He seems to love the guy. He is a mainstream pro with a proven track record, but the media refused to hear what he had made the career mistake of saying.
Scores of major media outlets reviewed “Barack and Michelle,” among them CBS News, USA Today, the Chicago Sun Times, the Seattle Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Chicago Tribune and the Telegraph of London.
Yet incredibly, I could not find a single one that so much as mentioned the “Dreams” controversy, the most newsworthy item in the book.
What has changed in the years since is that this time Barack Obama can afford to bring his ghostwriter to paradise with him.
What has not changed are the media. They don’t want to know any more now than they did then.
As to Bill Ayers, who has “confessed” to writing “Dreams” for Obama, he claims to be on a “DEMAND the IMPOSSIBLE Rainbow Queer Insurgent Road Trip Toward a Future Worth Having.”
Next stop, nobody knows.
Related previous column: “Nautical metaphors could sink Obama”
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