As Roger L. Simon asks, “How many lies does a man have to tell before we can call him a liar?”
The Ancient Romans said only one, when they gave us the legal dictum Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
That was a pretty stringent requirement. Most of us are not George Washington and one wonders if even George was perfect in his honesty, the cherry tree fable notwithstanding.
Barack Obama is another matter. According to Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith (normally a loyal member of the administration’s media claque), no less than thirty-eight documented falsehoods in the president’s memoir Dreams from My Father were revealed by David Maraniss’s new book Barack Obama: The Story.
What’s interesting about those falsehoods (can we call them lies?) is that they were unprovoked. We are used to presidential lies, most notably from Nixon and Clinton, but we know full well why those men were lying. In fact, in their cases it was obvious. In Obama’s, we do not.
Why was he lying? Self-aggrandizement? To sell books? For political purposes? Dreams from My Father was written before Obama supposedly had presidential ambitions. Or was there a hint, dare I say it, of pathology?
Elsewhere at PJM, David Steinberg answers Roger’s questions:
Obama crafted tales of racial victimhood, familial persecution, and even dramatic death, and in doing so dirtied his name, and for what? Where is a man considered more qualified for employment or admission based on the degree and “authenticity” of his and his family’s suffering?
Well, it’s all Marx, or — more timely and relevant to Obama’s formative years — the Frankfurt School, the philosophers behind a world of La Raza, Elizabeth Warren, “first black presidents,” ethnicity scholarships, BET, and affirmative action. When you speak of “oppressed classes” rather than individuals, and with the intent of advocating a transfer of wealth and opportunity to those “oppressed” by identity, you create favored identities. And that, of course, is incentive to burnish your authenticity.
This gives you two motivations for simply making your story up, one immoral and one tragic; I believe Obama was driven by both.
You may be: a) someone who simply isn’t terribly concerned with honor. An opportunist will embellish a resume. Or, you may be b) someone suffering psychic, spiritual pain at being inauthentic, unfavored, or simply invaluable to the community. This is common when authenticity, under Marx’s perverse, illiberal laws, makes you a demigod.
Obama wanted to be one of socialism’s cool kids. He knew he wasn’t. He took self-esteem orders from a segment of society that cared nothing for his actual, unique self. The tragedy is that he believed this crap and let it destroy his honor, and further, that charlatans like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers were waiting at every bus stop to gather pawns by convincing the inauthentic that they were, in fact, authentic — that they had suffered “enough,” that they were in fact Marx’s demigods.
Luckily, identity authenticity doesn’t exist, and those who have truly suffered at the hands of those who believe it does will tell you how repugnant it is to long to have been persecuted. Tragic that so many were fooled into chasing “Dreams,” but Obama is the author of his misdeeds and deserves his current liar’s fate.
While Obama is the first to use his self-created postmodern narrative to take him all the way to the White House (even Bill Clinton spent years toiling in the trenches in Little Rock before deploying his own brand of postmodernism to defend himself against impeachment in DC), he’s far from the only leftist to create his identity by way of victimhood, as Mark Steyn, writes in his latest weekly column, also the source of our headline above:
David Maraniss is no right-winger, and can’t understand why boorish nonliterary types have seized on his book as evidence that the president of the United States is a Grade A phony. “It is a legitimate question about where the line is in memoir,” he told Soledad O’Brien on CNN. My Oxford dictionary defines “memoir” as “an historical account or biography written from personal knowledge.” And if Obama doesn’t have “personal knowledge” of his tortured grandfather, war-hero step-grandfather and racially obsessed theater-buff girlfriend, who does? But in recent years, the Left has turned the fake memoir into one of the most prestigious literary genres: Oprah’s Book Club recommended James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” hailed by Bret Easton Ellis as a “heartbreaking memoir” of “poetic honesty,” but subsequently revealed to be heavy on the “poetic” and rather light on the “honesty.” The “heartbreaking memoir” of a drug-addled street punk who got tossed in the slammer after brawling with cops while high on crack with his narco-hooker girlfriend proved to be the work of some suburban Pat Boone type with a couple of parking tickets. (I exaggerate, but not as much as he did.)
Oprah was also smitten by “The Education of Little Tree,” the heartwarmingly honest memoir of a Cherokee childhood which turned out to be concocted by a former Klansman whose only previous notable literary work was George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech. “Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood” is a heartbreakingly honest, poetically searing, searingly painful, painfully honest, etc., account of Binjamin Wilkomirski’s unimaginably horrific boyhood in the Jewish ghetto of Riga and the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. After his memoir won America’s respected National Jewish Book Award, Mr. Wilkomirski was inevitably discovered to have been born in Switzerland and spent the war in a prosperous neighborhood of Zurich being raised by a nice middle-class couple. He certainly had a deprived childhood, at least from the point of view of a literary agent pitching a memoir to a major publisher. But the “unimaginable” horror of his book turned out to be all too easily imagined. Fake memoirs have won the Nobel Peace Prize and are taught at Ivy League schools to the scions of middle-class families who take on six-figure debts for the privilege (“I, Rigoberta Menchu”). They’re handed out by the Pentagon to senior officers embarking on a tour of Afghanistan (Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea”) on the entirely reasonable grounds that a complete fantasy could hardly be less credible than current NATO strategy.
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The question now is whether the United States itself is merely the latest chapter of Obama’s fake memoir. You’ll notice that, in the examples listed above, the invention only goes one way. No Cherokee orphan, Holocaust survivor or recovering drug addict pretends to be George Wallace’s speechwriter. Instead, the beneficiaries of boring middle-class Western life seek to appropriate the narratives and thereby enjoy the electric frisson of fashionable victim groups. And so it goes with public policy in the West at twilight.
Speaking of former academic types who’ve cooked their own books, (and in this case, cooked her own cookbook), Elizabeth Warren shares the same penchant for self-creation and self-promotion through racial victimhood. Boston talker Michael Graham spots the Massachusetts GOP having a little fun with their latest press release: “MassGOP’s Gift To Elizabeth Warren On Her 63rd Birthday: A Complimentary Ancestry.com Account.” Perhaps in lieu of wedding cash, someone could give the president an account there as well.