In Tuesday's Washington Post, op-edster Richard Cohen cites the same article I examined in Sunday's VDARE.com:
"Obama's Back Story
By Richard Cohen
In his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," he recounts a watershed moment of his own -- a "revelation," a "violent" awakening, an incident that "permanently altered" his "vision." Twice he tells how as a 9-year-old he went to the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia (a country where his mother had taken him to live) and came across a Life magazine article about a black man who had tried to whiten his skin through some sort of chemical process. The result was a disaster. "I felt my face and neck get hot," Obama wrote. "My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page." The child had, for the first time, confronted racism and its hideous consequences.
Only there is no such issue of Life magazine. So says the Chicago Tribune, which has gone through the Obama memoir with commendable thoroughness. The newspaper conducted "more than 40 interviews with former classmates, teachers, friends and neighbors" from Obama's youth and found both trivial and substantial differences between the stories Obama tells and those recalled by others.
What emerges from the Tribune's reporting is a man who seems much less fixated than he insists on finding his racial identity. When the Tribune told Obama that Life magazine historians could find no such story, Obama suggested it might have been Ebony -- "or it might have been . . . who knows what it was?" (The Tribune says Ebony's archivists also could not come up with such an article.)
Indeed, the memory of the event/non-event is so firmly planted in Obama's mind that it seems to have become an emotional truth for him, far more powerful than an intellectual truth.
I'm not convinced Obama is being disingenuous here. I wouldn't be surprised if this story actually did appear in a major America photojournalism magazine -- not in the iconic "Life," but in the now almost forgotten "Look." The latter, which was published from 1937 to 1971 and had a huge circulation, was a knockoff of "Life" down to its four letter L-word title, so it's frequently confused in memory with "Life." "Look" published many articles about race and civil rights, so this article would have fit in with their editorial predilections.
However, a Tribune reporter tells me that they looked in "Look," so maybe Obama is making it up out of whole cloth.
In Obama's case -- and maybe my own -- there might be something more than foggy memory at work. He may be manipulating the facts in order to wrap raw ambition in the gauze of a larger cause. Sheer ambition is no longer tolerated in American public life. Obama was only 34 when his memoir was published, but he was already on his way, a successful packager of himself.
He already knew, I suspect, that a public figure -- he was already the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review -- has to have both a cause and a back story: the PT-109 incident that changes a life, the rural poverty that has such an impact on a boy from Plains, the hope that comes to the man from Hope. No one can seem too ambitious, careerist.
A reader writes:
Everyone who gets into Harvard Law School has to have The Rap.
They have to have the story of teen angst, commitment to healing the world, good deeds, and preferably a healthy dose of some sort of conflict in the real world that gave them some special insight into human nature that makes them unique and diverse. Not TOO conflicted, however, since a felony conviction will prevent you from becoming a lawyer.
In my class, a year after Obama arrived, there was The Photojournalist from Nicaragua, who saw human suffering and experienced Life and Death first hand. There was also The Fly Fisherman, a guy who graduated from college and fly fished across the USA for a couple years, hitchhiking, living in the wilds, experiencing Water and the Land closehand and coming to a more true and full appreciation of Man and Nature.
Obama's autobiography is a book-length Harvard Law School Rap. It has the manufactured conflict, the manufactured struggling, the manufactured multiculturalism with a smidgen of Tragic Mulatto and Man Torn Between Two Cultures, etc. Of course no one in the admissions office ever challenges any individual's Rap since no one has the time, energy or enthusiasm. Think of it the same way you think of a fifty word High Concept movie pitch, like those studio scenes at the beginning of The Player.
Having expanded his Rap with more local color to make his book, all he has done is dig himself a deeper hole of deceit. Harvard won't fact-check student admission essays, but reporters will.
I never had a Rap, likely to the detriment of my college applications. Coming from a pleasant middle-middle class home, I could never think of anything to whine about. I was obviously luckier than 98% of all humans who ever lived, so dwelling on my bits of bad luck in college application essays ("My Struggle with the Heartbreak of Rhinitis"? … Nah …) seemed pointless and boring.
Besides, I'm emotionally shallow, with few hidden depths. While Obama is highly introspective, I'm the opposite: extrospective, I guess. (I just now learned that "extrospective" is a real word, which shows it's an uncommon condition, as opposed to 'extraverted'). Rather than dwell on my own feelings, I'm easily (and endlessly) amused by the outside world.
Well, enough about me. Just move along, folks, nothing to see here…