The Enigma of Barack Obama
To put it bluntly: nobody knows nothin’ about the president of the United States, aka the leader of the free world. And what little we do know is highly uninformative and often contradictory.
In a world where every phone call, email, text message, Tweet, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook post, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn link, Google + post, blog post, semaphore, morse code, Braille, and probably burp has been recorded digitally for posterity and beyond, nobody knows what Barack Obama even got in freshman English. (Well, maybe the NSA does, but they’re not telling.)
Does this matter? I don’t know – and that’s the point. In an administration that once proclaimed that it would be transparent like no other, but now has lied like no other, one can only guess.
Obama’s unseen college and graduate school records (Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law) are only one part of the Mystery of the Shrouded POTUS – another is the Khalidi tape, its possibly anti-Israel contents locked in a vault at the L.A. Times – but those academic records are certainly a significant part.
Has there been a modern presidential candidate about whom we know less than the former Barry Soetoro? Other than what he's told us about himself in Dreams from My Father -- a book proven even by sympathetic biographers to be filled with fabrications ("a man one step removed from his own life," according to David Maraniss)? Has anyone ever had the audacity to run for national office without a thorough vetting by the national media, replete with quotes from those who knew him then, interviews with his high-school classmates, examples of his writing, anecdotes, etc.? Would a dope-smoking member of the Choom Gang ever have even made it into the Senate were that aspect of his background widely known? What about his alcoholic, bigamist father?
One way to look at Obama is as a man of remarkable political skills who has overcome a "compelling personal story" that would have sunk anybody else. The problem, of course, is that the media fell for the other "compelling personal story" -- its own. "When the legend becomes fact," goes the famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "print the legend." And, boy, did they ever...
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Roger's concern focuses largely on the hidden academic transcripts, but I think we all have a pretty fair idea of what they might show: a kid of average intellect and (self-admittedly) poor work habits. Someone I know who attended Harvard Law with Obama described him to me years ago -- just after he made his famous speech at the 2004 convention -- as "lazy, arrogant and entitled," a judgment that seems to have withstood the test of time. I mean, who watches this much television?
Yet in his few quiet moments, this president seeks not to escape to the delicious back-stabbing of the “Real Housewives” or the frivolity of the singing teenagers on “Glee.” By his own accounts, Mr. Obama is drawn in his spare time to shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire,” the kind of heavy, darkly rendered television that echoes the sadness and strife that make up so much of his workday.
These days, when Mr. Obama retreats to the White House residence after a long day on the other end of the colonnade, he is working his way through the DVD box set of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” the award-winning TV drama about a drug-dealing high school teacher. The show just ended after five seasons, but the president is way behind and frequently reminds those around him not to give anything away.
Friends say Mr. Obama is also keenly awaiting the new season of the Netflix show “House of Cards,” which starkly depicts a dysfunctional Washington — a theme that must seem all too familiar. At a meeting of technology executives last week, Mr. Obama jokingly lamented his own inability to maneuver the halls of Congress in the way of Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood.
But wait! There's more!
But for Mr. Obama, “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards” are hardly the exceptions to what has become a clear pattern. Mr. Obama is also a devotee of Showtime’s “Homeland,” which offers an eerily familiar mirror to the president’s own foreign policy adventures: terrorism, Iranian nuclear negotiations, drone strikes, and an intelligence agency struggling for legitimacy with Congress and the American people.
And the list of heavies continues. Mr. Obama has told people he is a big fan of “Game of Thrones,” a brutal imagining of the wars in medieval Europe. He has raved about “Boardwalk Empire” and ITV’s “Downton Abbey,” two period dramas that document the angst and difficulties that people faced during those times. And he has worked his way through the DVDs of AMC’s smoldering “Mad Men” series, telling friends that the character of Peggy Olson has given him insight into what it must have been like for his strong-willed grandmother in a world dominated by men.
Then there is HBO’s “The Wire,” which Mr. Obama has repeatedly called one of the “greatest shows of all time.”
This would be an amazing amount of boob-tubery for anybody. But the president of the United States? I suppose if your definition of the office is to give a speech now and then, then almost everything else can be delegated to, say, Valerie Jarrett. But back to Roger's question:
More important... why hasn’t the press asked him why he does not release his transcript? Has even one of those hard-hitting reporters in the White House press room ever deigned to inquire even once? Or have they been too afraid to ask?
That’s a rhetorical question, I know. The real question is WHY are they afraid to ask about his college transcript? We can assume that some are afraid because they fear the answer, if a true one were eventually forthcoming, would humiliate them, that it would run counter to the narrative they had told themselves and others since, in all probability, early adolescence. A massive lie would be unmasked in which they had aided and abetted in the telling.
The press at the end of 2013 is at a remarkable moment. It may be – we don’t know yet – that the unreported story of 2103 (and five years previous) may finally be reported in 2014. Due to a number of factors – the Obamacare lies among them – a critical mass is forming that wants to know the truth. Whether they get it is another question. But whatever the result, a comprehensive – and accurate – biography of Barack Obama, whenever it is published, may be one of the best sellers of all time. I, for one, will certainly be anxious to read it.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the media's complicity in this presidency, and its continued investment in it. For make no mistake, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was not simply one man's triumph (and a remarkable story, whichever way you look at it) but the triumph of a Baby Boomer media that saw in him the culmination of everything it had "fought" for. Indeed, the real credit for Obama's election ought properly to go not to the candidate but to the manager, David Axelrod, the Jake Lingle of his day, who parlayed his journalistic background at the Chicago Tribune into a lucrative campaign-consulting business that relies heavily on his continuing contacts with his old friends to help his candidates along. How else to explain this amazing coincidence from the 2004 Senate race in Illinois that was the stepping-stone to Obama's presidential campaign four years later?
Dealing a blow to the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republican Jack Ryan, a California judge ruled that several sealed divorce records likely to embarrass the candidate and his ex-wife should be opened to the public.
Ruling on a request brought by attorneys for the Tribune and WLS-TV, Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider acknowledged that the resulting publicity from the disclosure would be harmful to the couple's son, a key argument Ryan had raised in seeking to keep the documents from public view.
But Schnider said he had weighed the public interest of disclosure against the private interests of the Ryans and their child. "In the end," Schnider found, "the balance tips slightly to the public."
Ryan is facing Democrat Barack Obama for the Senate seat being vacated by one-term Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.
Maybe some day an honest journalist or writer will give us the complete story about Barack Hussein Obama and his (charitably) improbable rise to political power -- but he or she will have to weather not only all the roadblocks the Obama team has thrown up to those pursuing the president's full background (for FactCheck's rather narrow definition of "sealed records," go here), but also the ire of the Axelrod generation of journalists who control what's left of the large institutions and aren't about to stand by quietly while any debunking or revisionism takes place. The Obama administration is the Boomers' nirvana, so they will not go gentle into that good night.