How phony is Barack Obama? PBS Washington Week host Gwen Ifill reviewed New Yorker editor David Remnick's new Obama book The Bridge in the Washington Post Outlook section Sunday, and she kept finding Obama is a Slick Barry, a "shape shifter." Obama even admitted to rhetoric what should be obvious -- how he changes "dialects" depending on the audience he's talking to:
Obama cops to this. "The fact that I conjugate my verbs and speak in a typical Midwestern newscaster's voice -- there's no doubt that this helps ease communication between myself and white audiences," he tells Remnick.
"And there's no doubt that when I'm with a black audience I slip into a slightly different dialect. But the point is, I don't feel the need to speak a certain way in front of a black audience. There's a level of self-consciousness about these issues the previous generation had to negotiate that I don't feel I have to."
When he reads this, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was excoriated after being quoted in another campaign book saying essentially the same thing, will no doubt regret his tortured apology.
Obama -- the offspring of a white mother and an African father -- learned what Remnick calls "shape-shifting" when he arrived in Chicago. Reared in Hawaii and Indonesia, he "had never encountered a place where race was so determinative," one old Chicago friend observes.
Ifill relayed that this wasn't contained to talking -- but even to walking!
Bobby Rush, the congressman and former Black Panther, is apparently still disdainful of the young Harvard Law School transplant who had the nerve to challenge him in 2000 (Obama lost, badly, in part because black voters were suspicious of his racial bona fides).
In one of the book's most remarkable passages, Rush mocks the president during an interview in his congressional office, getting out of his chair to make fun of Obama's distinctive, rolling stride. The smooth strut, Rush suggests, was something Obama appropriated from the street to appear more at home around black people. "Lemme tell you, I never noticed that he walked like that back then!"
Those who lost to Obama also complain that the newcomer got an easy ride from the news media. "We didn't understand why his politically calculating chameleon nature was never discussed," an aide to Clinton says. "We were said to be the chameleons, but he changed his life depending on who he was talking to." [Italics hers.]
That's pretty amazing coming from the Clintons, who prided themselves on their shape-shifting. What this proves though, is that the media's own political favoritism is crucial in determining which shape-shifter is going to prevail in the Democratic primaries. Ifill then noted the Republican take on the Obama-intoxicated media:
Mark Salter, John McCain's campaign adviser, co-author and alter ego, is more blunt: Obama won because his race played into reporters' romantic notions about the arc of civil rights history. "The truth is, all that will be remembered of the campaign is that America's original sin was finally expunged," he says. The McCain forces, Remnick concludes, saw Obama as absurdly fortunate.
There may be something to that. Obama was elected to the Senate only after not one but two credible contenders had contentious divorce papers unsealed. He was elected president because Clinton's campaign was chaotic, but also because Americans were anxious to change course from a deeply unpopular Republican president.
If Ifill wanted to offer full disclsure about media infatuation, she should have noted part of the "absurdly fortunate" pattern of emerging divorce records of Obama's opponents came from reporters and lawyers from the Chicago Tribune.
Ifill also noted that the alleged guardians of factual accuracy in our media took a complete holiday when it came to Obama's first memoir: he is "one who has largely been allowed to romanticize his own story."
Remnick efficiently strips some of the gloss off the version Obama offered in his best-selling 1995 memoir "Dreams From My Father," charitably and accurately describing that effort as "a mixture of verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention and artful shaping."
Obama, Remnick points out, ended each section with climactic, somewhat overwrought descriptions of himself in tears -- as he sees his father in a dream, discovers his spiritual roots in church, visits his father's grave. I totally bought all of this the first time I read "Dreams." I don't know that I would today -- in part because I am a professional skeptic when it comes to the people I cover, and in part because it's difficult to conceive of cool cucumber Obama being that overcome by emotion.
If Ifill really believes she is a "professional skeptic when it comes to the people I cover," why wasn't this awareness of Obama's fabricated memoirs in her own coverage of Obama while he was running for president?