Goldberg: Barack Obama's truthiness
It's becoming increasingly clear that President Barack Obama is not burdened with too heavy a commitment to honesty.
This is hardly a shock about any politician, but revelations of dishonesty hurt some more than others. Announce that Bill Clinton has been speaking falsely, and it hits the ears with as much force as the news that birds fly, fish swim and dogs lick their own nether regions.
But Obama was supposed to be different. He was a "lightworker," an ocean tamer and cynicism slayer. In short, he was supposed to be too good to be true -- and it turns out he was.
That's one obvious conclusion to be drawn from the all-too-delayed vetting of the president's biography, most notably in David Maraniss' aptly titled new book, "Barack Obama: The Story," but also at news outlets such as National Review Online and Big Journalism.
Obama has been less than honest about many things. Some of his biggest distortions should be the subject of sustained soul searching on the part of the media. For instance, as New York Times reporter Janny Scott first reported over a year ago, Obama lied about his cancer-stricken mother being denied coverage for her pre-existing condition. Yes, he was close to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and former terrorist Bill Ayers. Yes, he was a member of the socialist New Party (as my National Review colleague Stanley Kurtz has documented).
In the spirit of charity, some of the lies can be chalked up, at least in part, to fanciful family narratives. Obama claims his maternal grandfather fought in Patton's army and liberated Nazi death camps. He says his paternal grandfather was tortured by the British imperialists in Kenya. He's claimed his Indonesian stepgrandfather was killed by the Dutch while fighting for independence. None of that is true.
What I find more interesting are the lies Obama tells not so much about himself, but about society. In "Dreams from My Father," Obama tells readers that he struggled with racism and racial alienation all his life. He wasn't a starter on his high school basketball team because he played "black" while his coach coached "white." He confabulated a black friend in high school who, like himself, was shunned for racial reasons. He wrote of a "big fight" with a white ex-girlfriend who, after seeing a racially charged play, "started talking about why black people were so angry all the time."
As Maraniss methodically shows, these and other tales of racial woe were false. His coach didn't start him because he wasn't good enough to start. His friend in high school was half-Japanese, not black, and neither of them were racially ostracized. The girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, never saw the play and never said anything of the sort. And so on.
The Barack Obama who wrote "Dreams From My Father" probably never dreamed of becoming president of the United States. That man was a product of campus culture -- at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago -- and his vignettes of racial struggle were in some respects the coin of his realm. Later, when he entered the national political scene, he discovered this currency was accepted by much of the mainstream media as well.
No doubt Obama experienced racial animosity in his life, but not enough to fill a memoir with true examples. No doubt life had been unfair to him, but not so unfair as to keep him from Harvard, the Senate or the White House. He has lived a charmed life in almost every regard, but the truth is not as compelling as the legend.
The lies, the self-made myths and the whole gestalt of the Obama story as told by Obama and his fans boil down to a man who has struggled with adversity and proven himself better than the society that spawned him. In effect, we don't deserve Barack Obama. Perhaps this helps explain why Michelle Obama once said that the impending nomination of her husband was the first time in her adult life she was proud of America.
One pattern holds from beginning to end of the tale: When things go wrong for the young Barack, the truth must be bent to show that it's somebody else's fault. Young Barry Obama had the right stuff as a basketball player but was denied by the smallness of his coach's vision. Older Barack Obama, likewise, has the right stuff, but voters, or the Republicans, or maybe the Europeans, are too small to recognize his greatness. The truth of the matter has nothing to do with it.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.