June 14, 2012

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John Fund reports Der Spiegel has given up on the One.

In July 2008, the leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel couldn’t contain itself in its reporting on Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin. The coverage was rapturous.

“The people of Berlin experienced the full range of Barack Obama’s charisma on Thursday evening,” it enthused. “At times he was reserved, at others engaging. Sometimes combative, and also demanding.” Der Spiegel called him “the trans-Atlantic bridge builder” who wowed 200,000 Germans as he proved himself a “save the world orator” who would expunge the evils of the unpopular Bush administration. 

My, how times have changed. This week — almost exactly four years later — Der Spiegel is back with a cover story featuring a glum and dejected Obama: “Sad,” the headline reads. “Obama’s Unlucky Presidency.” …


Andrew Malcolm reports on the campaign. 

President Obama today is — what else? – fundraising again.

But while he’s out, Gallup released a seriously ominous poll for the Democrat’s chances of keeping his extended family in the White House for four more years.

Gallup finds a deep crack in Obama support emerging among whites, still statistically by far the largest group of voters. His support among several white subgroups is down 5% now among registered voters from what it was just before the 2008 election, when he easily defeated John McCain.

These sub-sets of non-Hispanic whites include young registered voters between 18 and 29, which provided him a huge margin four years ago, well-educated women and non-religious whites, among others. Other research has shown huge percentages of Obama’s money donors from 2008 withholding their money this time.

Obama’s support among registered voters today is 46%, five points below what it was nearly four years ago. Whites’ support is down slightly more, six points, from 44% to 38%.

Obama’s support among blacks, while still overwhelming, has also dipped four points from 91% to 87%.

This unwelcome news for the Chicago political operation comes after a horrendous two weeks of gaffes, bad jobs news and unforced errors by the politician once known here as the Real Good Talker. …

Andrew Ferguson reviews two of the new Obama books and ends up reviewing Obama’s first book too.

… the only way to keep a book like The Amateur chugging along is with gallons of high-octane contempt. Yet because Klein provides so little to provoke fresh outrage?—?or to support the theme that Obama is “something new in American politics,” a historically unprecedented threat to the Republic?—?readers will have to come to the book well-stocked with outrage of their own. They will be satisfied with sentences that begin with an appeal to phony-baloney authority (“According to those who know him best”) and continue with assertions that no Obama intimate would make to Edward Klein, on or off the record: “inept in the arts of management .??.??. make[s] our economy less robust and our nation less safe .??.??.” and so on. And they’ll admire his ability to fit his theme of Obama’s villainy to any set of facts. After his election, for example, Obama didn’t take a wise man’s advice to disregard his old Chicago friends?—?a sign of Obama’s weakness and amateurism, Klein says. A few pages later Obama and Valerie Jarrett are accused of ignoring their old Chicago friends?—?a sign of coldness and amateurism. Klein gets him  coming and going.

If Klein makes Obama something he’s not by hating him more than he should, David Maraniss, a reporter for the Washington Post and a biographer of Bill Clinton and Vince Lombardi, takes the opposite approach. Klein is an Obama despiser, Maraniss is a big fan?—?big fan. Klein assumes the worst of his subject at every turn, Maraniss gives Obama every benefit of the doubt, sometimes with heroic effort. Klein writes hastily and crudely, Maraniss writes with great care, veering now and then into those pastures of purple prose that Obama frequently trod in his own memoir. Klein’s book aims for a limited but sizable audience of readers who already despise Obama as much as he does, and therefore don’t require footnotes or any other apparatus of verification; Maraniss, with 30 pages of notes, has grander ambitions to satisfy anyone curious about Obama’s upbringing and family life. Klein’s book is a squalid little thing, Maraniss’s is not.

It is not, however, the book that Obama lovers will hope for?—?maybe not the book that Maraniss thinks it is. Prepublication, his splashiest piece of news has been the extent of the future president’s love for, and consumption of, marijuana. Through high school?—?he apparently lost the taste for pot sometime in college?—?Obama’s ardor reached Cheech and Chong levels. His circle of dopers called themselves the “Choom Gang,” after a Hawaiian word for inhaling pot, and the phrase is already threatening to enter the common language, ironically or otherwise. (I Googled it today and got 560,000 hits, pardon the expression.)

Obama politically indemnified himself against charges of youthful drug use by admitting them in his memoir, though he was smart enough to avoid the words “Choom Gang.” Even at 33, when he wrote his book, he had his eye on a political landscape that would require acknowledgment if not full disclosure of youthful “experimentation,” as the charming euphemism went. In Dreams, he treats the drug use as another symptom of his singular youthful confusion. Maraniss’s explanation is less complicated: Obama really, really liked to get high. Maraniss offers similarly unblinkered portraits of Obama’s appalling father, a vain, wife-beating bigamist and drunk, and of Obama’s maternal grandfather, who comes off in Dreams as a latter-day Micawber, innocent and luckless. Maraniss hints at a darker, even slightly menacing figure. And he discovers some sharp edges beneath the flowing muumuu of Obama’s mother, more often depicted as an idealistic flower-child-turned-scholar (or, in the Klein-reading camp, a Communist agitator).

Maraniss’s book is most interesting for the light it casts on Obama’s self-invention, which is of course the theme of Dreams from My Father: a sensitive and self-aware young man’s zig-zagging search for a personal identity in a world barely held together by fraying family ties, without a cultural inheritance, confused and tormented by the subject of race. Dreams is a cascade of epiphanies, touched off one by one in high school, at Oxy, in New York and Chicago, and, at book’s end, before his father’s grave in Africa. Years before Obama haters could inflate him into an America-destroying devil or Obama worshippers spied those rolling swells of greatness that have yet to surface, Barack Obama was carefully fashioning from his own life something grander than what was there. He was the first Obama fabulist. 

Obama himself drops hints of this in Dreams. He writes in his introduction that the dialogue in the book is only an “approximation” of real conversations. Some of the characters, “for the sake of compression,” are “composites”; the names of others have been changed. All of this is offered to the reader as acceptable literary license, and it is, certainly by the standards of the early 1990s, back in the day when publishers flooded bookstores with memoirs of angst-ridden youth and there were still bookstores to flood. Yet the epiphany-per-page ratio in Obama’s memoir is very high. The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent. …


Late night humor from Andrew Malcolm

Leno: At a news conference Obama says the economy is doing just fine. In fact, 14 million people were able to watch the news conference at home because they’re unemployed.

Leno: A new book says Barack Obama smoked huge amounts of marijuana in high school. New unemployment numbers are higher than Obama was in high school.

Fallon: Joe Biden’s daughter was married in a ceremony that incorporated Jewish traditions. But Biden wouldn’t wear the yarmulke til they put a propeller on top.

Fallon: Obama spent Friday night at his Chicago home. But there was an awkward moment the next day. When he left for D.C., the housekeeper said, ‘So, see you after the election?’

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