Barack Obama is campaigning hard for Democrats and claiming “the character of our country is on the ballot” and Republicans are “making stuff up.” Though entirely predictable, that rhetoric might be half right.
The character of our country was on the ballot 10 years ago when the freshman U.S. senator from Illinois said, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” To get to that point, some believe, the former president of the Harvard Law Review had to make up a few things, such as his founding story.
Dreams from My Father was not a memoir or an autobiography; it was instead, in multitudinous ways, without any question a work of historical fiction. It featured many true-to-life figures and a bevy of accurately described events that indeed had occurred, but it employed the techniques and literary license of a novel, and its most important composite character was the narrator himself.
Is this the contention of some “birther,” or perhaps a rival in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign? Sorry, it’s Pulitzer Prize winner David Garrow, author of the 1,460-page Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, one of the Washington Post’s 10-best books of 2017. The distinguished biographer, no conservative he, is stating that Dreams from My Father is a work of fiction and the author is a “composite character.”
Garrow’s revelation came in 2017, after the rising star had been the most powerful man in the world for eight years. Others could have picked it up back in 1995, when Dreams from My Father first emerged.
Author Barack Obama had no record of publication and he writes “I cannot honestly say that the voice in this book is not mine.” So he had some help with it, and the story presents some difficulties. “People have a hard time taking me at face value,” the author explains, and sometimes “I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.” He also expresses “a stubborn desire to protect myself from scrutiny,” so any reader might wonder if something is being covered up here. As it turns out, Garrow found more about the need for protection from scrutiny.
The author’s beloved “Frank,” who gets more than 2,000 words in Dreams, is the African American Communist Frank Marshall Davis, who spent much of his life defending all-white Stalinist dictatorships. As Garrow notes, “Davis’ Communist background plus his kinky exploits made him politically radioactive.”
The Dreams narrative centers on the African father the author never knew, and he was “trying to rewrite the stories, plugging up the holes in the narrative, accommodating unwelcome details.” This was to extract “some granite slab of truth upon which my unborn children can stand.” He also writes of a “useful fiction” and explains, “my father became a prop in someone else’s narrative. An attractive prop—an alien with the heart of gold, the mysterious stranger who saves the town and wins the girl—but a prop nonetheless.”
So the father was an “attractive prop” in a “useful fiction,” which was part of “someone else’s narrative.” With open confessions like that, nobody could be blamed for calling the book a novel, in the style of David Garrow. And the presidential biographer was unable to compare Dreams with the African’s own account.
In his written communications from 1958 to 1964, including more than 20 letters, the Kenyan Barack Obama mentions nothing about an American wife and American son born in 1961. Still, the scholarly Garrow, author of books on Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, did find more evidence of fabrication.
Garrow interviewed Genevieve Cook, one of the author’s girlfriends and not present in the Dreams account. “You masquerade, you pompous jive, you act,” she tells the author in a poem. In Cook’s view, Barry (as he was then known) was protecting himself from scrutiny and putting on an act. No surprise that few ever called him on it, but it goes beyond what Julien Benda called La Trahison des Clercs.
In a time when the eschaton has been thoroughly immanentized, belief overrides the facts. Everyone is supposed to believe that Dreams from My Father is authentic even after biographer David Garrow calls it fiction. In similar style, Elizabeth Warren’s claim that she is Cherokee, Richard Blumenthal’s boast that he fought in Vietnam, and Christine Blasey Ford’s charge against Brett Kavanaugh are supposed to believed, not questioned.
Back in 2008, the Dreams author wanted fundamentally to transform America into a statist arrangement where the people get only what the government wants to give them. But you can keep your doctor, no scandals, and never a smidgen of corruption. In this transformed arrangement, the Great Leader picks his successor and deploys the deep state for leverage. So the “character of the country” was on the ballot in 2016, but designated successor Hillary Clinton lost.
Meanwhile, voters might believe the character of the country is on the November 6 ballot. There can be little doubt, on the other hand, that when comes to “making stuff up,” our 44th president is second to none.
Photo Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images