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David Remnick believes in Barack Obama.
(Page 2 of 2)
The task has been to keep the particulars of the dream alive — even if no one quite remembers what the dream was or where it was going — to present the civil rights movement as a dialectical process, a series of progressive steps leading across that bridge to a logical culmination, personified by the perfect human product. And suddenly, from nowhere, there he was — Barack Obama, validating and legitimizing the whole process, reviving and sanctifying the quest.
In service of that quest, Remnick devotes a chapter to locating the book within a genre and attempting to demonstrate that genre’s inherent literary superiority. Obama “was working within the oldest, and arguably the richest, genre in African-American writing: the memoir.” He begins with slave narratives, manages to fill a page and a half with titles and authors from this “rich genre,” and caps it off, somewhat desperately, with Sammy Davis Jr. and his autobiography, Yes I Can. Sound familiar? (There may be hope here. Sammy Davis Jr., at the height of his popularity, converted to Judaism, became a Republican, and embraced Richard Nixon.)
Along the way, Remnick makes a number of dubious observations about the nature of literature in general and African-American literature in particular. (Europeans write memoirs at the end of life, African Americans at the beginning.) Suffice it to say, Remnick is a better reporter than literary critic.
And it’s when he rehearses the last few decades of politics in Chicago — albeit with a relentless liberal bent that requires everything to be viewed through the prism of race — when he brings the great cast of the city’s politicos back for a curtain call, that we hear the Washington Post reporter who sent those splendid dispatches from Moscow a few decades ago and whose book Lenin’s Tomb won a Pulitzer.
If there’s a problem here, it’s that the best parts of this book — the Chicago parts — have already appeared in his New Yorker article, where he kept the theorizing and philosophizing to a minimum, laid off the risky literary criticism, and stuck to what he does best. That means that the over-covered 2008 campaign has now been written to death, a whole new batch of books about the next one is already being ground out, and there’s little new for Remnick to report in this extended rewrite.
NOR, IN ALL THESE PAGES, does he answer the key question. Bill Gavin puts it this way: “I’d like to know the answer to one question. Forget about race and ideology. Obama is a political phenomenon, but why has he always (with one exception) succeeded? He is so damned mysterious. And in a situation that never before happened, the outcome of his two senatorial races, one state, one national, were both determined by sex scandals. There was Bill Ayers, the crazy pastor, his association with the Chicago con man (Rezko), and his extremist positions on partial-birth abortions in the Illinois Senate, far to the left of any other politician of whom I’m aware. Any of these would have killed any candidacy. But he danced his way through. He is truly the Artful Dodger.”
Why has he always succeeded? Don Terry, a Chicago Tribune reporter, says of Obama: “He’s a Rorschach test….What you see is what you want to see.” And what you see, adds Remnick, is often not what you thought you saw. In Chicago, Obama learned “he could change styles….He subtly shifted accent and cadences depending on the audience: a more straight delivery for a luncheon of businesspeople in the Loop; a folksier approach at a downstate V.F.W.; echoes of the pastors of the black churches when he was in one. Obama is multi-lingual, a shape-shifter.”
Is it that it? Artful shape-shifting? Necromancy? Many faces? People seeing what they want to see? Or is it this? Here’s Obama with an aide, as reported by Remnick:
When Obama learned that his opponent [in the 2004 Senate race] would be Alan Keyes, he could not help but betray incredulous delight.
“Can you believe this s***t?” he said to Jim Cauley. [Asterisks supplied by reviewer.]
“No, dude. You are the luckiest bastard in the world.”
And perhaps, despite the oceans of words and analysis, and the hundred of fat books stuffed with stale reporting, it’s just as simple as that.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?