Monthly Archives: July 2012

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 6

In this review article of David Marniss’s account of the early life and formation of Barack Obama I will now attempt to tie various loose ends together and draw some conclusions based upon this lively and well-written social biography of the early life of our 44th president. My seventh review article, published tomorrow, will complete this series.

My personal conclusion, after reading this lengthy work based upon obviously careful research, is that Barack Obama is our first postmodern, globalist president. I also believe, based upon his own words and the witness of numerous friends of his that I know in public and (and in several instances) in private, that Barack Obama is a thoughtful and deeply engaged Christian. I will define these three terms at the conclusion of my seventh article tomorrow.

Barack Obama was deeply impacted, as a developing boy, by the absence of his father. This is true of so many children in our time. This is one reason that he seems to care so deeply about the breakdown of the family. I know critics will say that his policies are not helpful to families, and

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 5

In David Marniss’s fine book, Barack Obama: The Story, we learn that Obama himself would later reflect on his young adult life and say, once again from the White House: “There is no doubt that what I retained in my politics is a sense that the only way I could have a sturdy sense of identity of who I was depended on digging beneath the surface differences of people” (453). He came to believe that what made sense of life was a sense of commonality, something that was essential to human truth, hopes and passions that reached beyond our differences (453). He says of himself that this thinking is “at the core of who I am” (453). I am not commenting on political ideology in these review blogs, quite intentionally. Yet I must say that I deeply resonate with this self-reflective idea of who I am as a person.

In Obama’s first two serious relationships with girlfriends he wrote that he was avoiding Alex (one of the girls) because, as Maraniss reports, “he was consumed with finding himself” (464). By early 1984 he was deeply involved with

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 4

We have now seen several powerful influences in Barack Obama’s early formative years. Another influence that was pounded into him by a black leader at Occidental College, during his freshman year, “can be summarized in three words: listen, analyze, decide” (359, italics are author’s). One of Obama’s classmates at Occidental said he was a “floater” (376) in terms of his ability to move easily from one culture to another. This development is understandable given his childhood in Indonesia and Hawaii. At Occidental College he first came in contact with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous treatise “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This powerful call for justice had a profound influence in shaping his identity and, eventually, his beliefs.

The family rift, which led to his complete separation from his birth father, and later for long periods being separate from his mother, clearly took its toll on young Barack Obama. His mother Ann tried so hard to never speak of the pain of their broken family. She intentionally chose to not criticize Barack, Sr. She did this in order to preserve Barack, Jr.’s ideals about his father. I recently

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 3

Numerous conservative talk show programs and commentators have stirred a great deal of controversy about President Obama’s birth and background. David Maraniss plainly puts several of these myths to rest. (I will not, however, hold my breath that conspiracy theorists, especially if they hate the president, will stop spreading these ridiculous lies!) Barack Obama was legitimately born on American soil as the son of an American citizen who was born in Kansas and married to his father in Hawaii. She was married to his Kenyan father seven months before his birth. His father was married to another women in Kenya but Stanley Ann Dunham, and the American judicial system, had no knowledge of this fact when the president’s parents were married. The physician who delivered Barack Obama is named and discussed in Barack Obama: The Story. He actually jokingly told another doctor the day he delivered Barack that he had delivered a baby that day whose mother was named “Stanley.” Maraniss plainly shows that any serious research will prove facts to be true beyond any doubt whatsoever. Argue about a birth certificate if you wish but

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 2

Barack Obama grew up without a father and his mother was quite frequently absent from his life. This prompts David Maraniss to conclude that in a very real sense he “raised himself” (xix). He “worked his way alone through many confounding issues life threw his way” (xix). If this is true then an argument can be made against Maraniss’s idea that genealogy and family have very little to do with how he became the man that he is today.  But there is more, so much more, to be seen in this observation. Maraniss says the questions about nature and nurture are completely fair and then explains why this is true. Even though family is “certainly . . .  not everything . . . [this social influence] is crucial” (xix), he writes. One can, for example, easily see how the imprint of Obama’s mother, and maternal grandmother, are deeply impressed upon him from the very earliest stages of his life.

In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama acknowledged that his mother and maternal grandmother shaped him into the man that he eventually became. In his best-selling memoir

Barack Obama: The Story, Part 1

The much-anticipated book, Barack Obama: The Story, is a 641-page volume written by Pulitzer Prize winning author-journalist David Maraniss. I got more insight from this lengthy book into the early life, development and personality of our forty-fourth president than through anything that I have previously read. If you want a political study of the man, pro or con, then you should look elsewhere. If you want a “puff piece” aimed at re-electing the president then you should look somewhere else too. And if you are looking for ammunition to attack Obama then you must also look elsewhere. There is hardly a single syllable in this massive book about politics, at least in the normal way that we speak and write about politics and political ideology. This is a deeply studied, and yet masterfully written, generational biography. It shows how Barack Obama developed intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. It addresses the classic nature/nurture debate about shows well how we are shaped as living, breathing individuals.

David Maraniss was born in 1949 (my birth year). He is a journalist and author, currently serving as an associate-editor for the Washington Post

The Real Romney, Part 4

The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

After reading The Real Romney, by reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, I committed myself to  reading the new David Maraniss biography, Barack Obama: The Story. (I also got this book from my public library right after I returned the Romney book.) David Maraniss’s moving treatment of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, remains my favorite biography of the former president. It was both fair and a deeply insightful study of the life, character and formation of President William Jefferson Clinton. David Maraniss is a superb writer! I will write about this book in blogs that will published next week.

One of my more pressing personal concerns, in trying to understand Mitt Romney, was answered by this biography, yet not to my complete satisfaction. I admit to remaining doubts about the impact of Mormon beliefs in a leader. Let me explain. My question, in particular, is about the Mormon doctrine of eschatology, or “end times” theology. The question goes like this: “Would a Mormon president be inclined to lead this

The Real Romney, Part 3

The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

There are several things that I can now say about Governor Mitt Romney, with some degree of confidence, after reading the interesting and fair-minded biography, The Real Romney. (This, by the way, is a well-written book that was quite easy to finish in a short time.) I can safely say that the real Mitt Romney is not the star of every deal and decision that he has ever made. His campaign will obviously stress his positives this fall but seeing how he had failed, at least in some decisions, and then how he responded to these failures, made this book exceptionally useful. If the goal in reading such a book is to gain a sense of the character and leadership abilities of Mitt Romney, both learned from actual life experience, then Kranish and Helman provide the reader with some great stories and keen insights. When all is said and done Romney’s leadership record is quite impressive, at least in terms of what he has done and how he conducted himself in doing it. He clearly understands the free market, has successfully worked within

The Real Romney, Part 2

The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

Since our national election is less than four months away I recently concluded that I knew very little about Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. (I have not read his memoir and believe that such political memoirs are not likely to reveal anything deeply important to my knowing the person better anyway.) As I thought about a Romney candidacy I realized that I had some profound questions about the man, his faith and his style of leadership that I wanted to see answered. Some of these questions troubled me. I find a lot to like about Mitt Romney, in a broadly uninformed way. I certainly do not see him as a bad man in any sense of the word bad. I just did not feel like I know enough about him to have an educated opinion regarding his person, character or leadership abilities. For this reason I plunged into my reading of The Real Romney with significant interest.

It should be noted that the authors of The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, are journalists, not historians.

The Real Romney, Part 1

The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

Every four years America conducts a slightly troubling, but almost always peaceful, national process that we call a general election. We choose all 435 members of the House of Representatives, approximately one third of the 100 members of the Senate and, of course, a president to a four-year term. The results of these elections are what millions of us talk about for months, sometimes even years. From as far back as I can remember this process has been contentious and highly partisan. This is what you would expect in a democracy, especially a democracy with a two-party system. Our first president, George Washington, warned that a two-party system could undo us. So far he has been wrong but it does make you wonder doesn’t it? The major difference in the last decade or so seems to be that we hear about this general election, and the ideas that come from the respective campaigns, almost nonstop. This news cycle is virtually 24/7. We will read about President Obama and Governor Romney until early November. We will watch them discussed


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