Carlos Lozada packs a punch. He’s the most important book critic of our time and he’s neither left nor right.
Garrow portrays Obama as a man who ruthlessly compartmentalized his existence; who believed early on that he was fated for greatness; and who made emotional sacrifices in the pursuit of a goal that must have seemed unlikely to everyone but him. Every step — whether his foray into community organizing, Harvard Law School, even the choice of whom to love — was not just about living a life but about fulfilling a destiny.
It is in the personal realm that Garrow’s account is particularly revealing. He shares for the first time the story of a woman Obama lived with and loved in Chicago, in the years before he met Michelle, and whom he asked to marry him. Sheila Miyoshi Jager, now a professor at Oberlin College, is a recurring presence in “Rising Star,” and her pained, drawn-out relationship with Obama informs both his will to rise in politics and the trade-offs he deems necessary to do so. Garrow, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., concludes this massive new work with a damning verdict on Obama’s determination: “While the crucible of self-creation had produced an ironclad will, the vessel was hollow at its core.”
…Jager, who in “Dreams From My Father” was virtually written out, compressed into a single character along with two prior Obama girlfriends, may have evoked something of Obama’s distant mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Like Dunham, Jager studied anthropology, and while Dunham focused on Indonesia, Jager developed a deep expertise in the Korean Peninsula. Jager was of Dutch and Japanese ancestry, fitting the multicultural world Obama was only starting to leave behind. They were a natural fit. Jager soon came to realize, she told Garrow, that Obama had “a deep-seated need to be loved and admired.”
She describes their life together as an isolating experience, “an island unto ourselves” in which Obama would “compartmentalize his work and home life.” She did not meet Jeremiah Wright, the pastor with a growing influence on Obama, and they rarely saw his professional colleagues socially. The friends they saw were often graduate students at the University of Chicago, where Sheila was pursuing her doctorate. They traveled together to meet her family as well as his. Soon they began speaking of marriage.
“In the winter of ‘86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him,” she told Garrow. Her parents were opposed, less for any racial reasons (Barack came across to them like “a white, middle-class kid,” a close family friend said) than for concern about Obama’s professional prospects, and because her mother thought Sheila, two years Obama’s junior, was too young. “Not yet,” Sheila told Barack. But they stayed together.
In early 1987, when Obama was 25, she sensed a change. “He became. . . so very ambitious” very suddenly,” she told Garrow. “I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president.”
The sense of destiny is not unusual among those who become president. (See Clinton, Bill.) But it created complications. Obama believed that he had a “calling,” Garrow writes, and in his case it was “coupled with a heightened awareness that to pursue it he had to fully identify as African American.”
Maraniss’s 2012 biography deftly describes Obama’s conscious evolution from a multicultural, internationalist self-perception toward a distinctly African American one, and Garrow puts this transition into an explicitly political context. For black politicians in Chicago, he writes, a non-African-American spouse could be a liability. He cites the example of Richard H. Newhouse Jr., a legendary African American state senator in Illinois, who was married to a white woman and endured whispers that he “talks black but sleeps white.” And Carol Moseley Braun, who during the 1990s served Illinois as the first female African American U.S. senator and whose ex-husband was white, admitted that “an interracial marriage really restricts your political options.”
Discussions of race and politics suddenly overwhelmed Sheila and Barack’s relationship. “The marriage discussions dragged on and on,” but now they were clouded by Obama’s “torment over this central issue of his life . . . race and identity,” Sheila recalls. The “resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career,” she said.
In Garrow’s telling, Obama made emotional judgments on political grounds. A close mutual friend of the couple recalls Obama explaining that “the lines are very clearly drawn. . . . If I am going out with a white woman, I have no standing here.” And friends remember an awkward gathering at a summer house, where Obama and Jager engaged in a loud, messy fight on the subject for an entire afternoon. (“That’s wrong! That’s wrong! That’s not a reason,” they heard Sheila yell from their guest room, their arguments punctuated by bouts of makeup sex.) Obama cared for her, Garrow writes, “yet he felt trapped between the woman he loved and the destiny he knew was his.”
Just days before he would depart for Harvard Law School — and when the relationship was already coming apart — Obama asked her to come with him and get married, “mostly, I think, out of a sense of desperation over our eventual parting and not in any real faith in our future,” Sheila explained to Garrow. At the time, she was heading to Seoul for dissertation research, and she resented his assumption she would automatically postpone her career for his. More arguments ensued, and each went their way, although not for good…
Obama had met Michelle Robinson at the Chicago law firm where she worked — and where he was a summer associate — after his first year of law school, and the couple quickly became serious. However, Jager, who soon arrived at Harvard on a teaching fellowship, was not entirely out of his life.
“Barack and Sheila had continued to see each other irregularly throughout the 1990-91 academic year, notwithstanding the deepening of Barack’s relationship with Michelle Robinson,” Garrow writes. (“I always felt bad about it,” Sheila told the author more than two decades later. Once Barack and Michelle were married, his personal ties to Sheila was reduced to the occasional letter (such as after the 9/11 attacks) and phone call (when he reached out to ask whether a biographer had contacted her).
If Garrow is correct in concluding that Obama’s romantic choices were influenced by his political ambitions, it is no small irony that Michelle Obama became one of those most skeptical about Obama’s political prospects, and most dubious about his will to rise. She constantly discourages his efforts toward elective office and resents the time he spends away from her and their two young daughters. Obama vented to a friend how often Michelle would talk about money. “Why don’t you go out and get a good job? You’re a lawyer — you can make all the money we need,” she would tell him, as the couple struggled with student loans and the demands of family and political life. (Garrow sides with Michelle, highlighting how, on the day after Sasha was born, Barack went downtown for a meeting.)
…And he goes deliciously small-bore, too, delving into the culture of the Illinois statehouse, where poker was intense and infidelity was rampant. “There’s a lot of people who f—ed in Springfield,” a female lobbyist tells Garrow. “What else is there to do?” Obama, however, did not. “Michelle would kick my butt,” he told a colleague there. At times Garrow delivers information simply because he has it; I did not need a detailed readout of all of Obama’s course evaluations from his years teaching at the University of Chicago’s law school. (Turns out his students liked him.)
The book’s title seems chosen with a sense of irony. Garrow shows how media organizations invariably described Obama as a “rising star,” in almost self-fulfilling fashion. Yet, after nine years of research and reporting, Garrow does not appear too impressed by his subject, even if he recognizes Obama’s historical importance.
The author is harsh but persuasive in his reading of “Dreams From My Father,” for instance, calling it not a memoir but a work of “historical fiction,” one in which the “most important composite character was the narrator himself.” (Reviewers were impressed by it, but few who knew Obama well seemed to recognize the man in its pages.) He points out that Obama’s cocaine use extended into his post-college years, longer than Obama had previously acknowledged. And he suggests Obama deployed religion for political purposes; while campaigning for the U.S. Senate, Garrow notes, Obama began toting around a Bible and exhibited “a greater religious faith than close acquaintances had ever previously sensed.”
Throughout the book, Obama displays an almost petulant dissatisfaction with each step he took to reach the Oval Office. Community organizing is not ambitious enough, he decides, so he goes to law school. But then he moves into politics because “I saw the law as being inadequate to the task “of achieving social change,” Obama explains. In Springfield, he is again disillusioned by “the realization that politics is a business . . . an activity that’s designed to advance one’s career, accumulate resources and help one’s friends,” as “opposed to a mission.”And upon reaching the U.S. Senate, he tells National Journal that he is “surprised by the lack of deliberation in the world’s greatest deliberative body.” Nothing measures up.
Obama was groomed by his extended family, well-educated people with ties to academia and American deep state power, for a career as a foreign relations go-between: what I call a Muslimist. Not an “Arabist,” but similar: an expert on non-Arab heavily Muslim countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, and Kenya.
As Obama told his previous biographer David Maraniss, the “obvious path for me given my background” was to get a graduate degree in international relations and wind up “working in the State Department, in the Foreign Service, or working for an international foundation.…”
Dr. Jager has a similar job involving being an expert on Korea.
In 1985 Obama rebelled against that foreign affairs destiny, moving to insular Chicago. Of course, he didn’t get along all that well with the African-Americans he was now paid to organize, so he acquired a girlfriend straight out of his old International Affairs world.
The white girlfriend he left behind in New York was the daughter of a top Australian intelligence official with expertise in Indonesia who later because Australia’s ambassador to the United States. She was also the stepdaughter of a top Washington Democratic power broker lawyer who ran the Indonesian connection for a giant international mining company. I’ve always wondered who set them up: maybe Timothy Geithner’s dad, who worked with Obama’s mom?
Comments at Steve Sailer:
* I do find myself wondering how our media will choose to destroy, as they must, Garrow’s book, and his reputation.
Kakutani’s typically incompetent, ham-handed diatribe in the NY Times isn’t going to do the job:
Thing is, Garrow has won a Pulitzer Prize. How do you pretend he and his book don’t exist, and are unworthy?
* Didn’t stop him from dating Larry Sinclair later on. Incidentally, Sinclair confirms Garrow’s claims that Obama’s cocaine use persisted longer than he admitted:
* Daily Caller:
Former President Barack Obama considered being homosexual as a young man, according to a forthcoming biography of the president.
The biography by David Garrow, “Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama,” is set to come out on May 9. Garrow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King Jr., and is a regular contributor to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In a chapter about the former president’s two years at Occidental College, Garrow reveals a close relationship Obama had with an openly gay assistant professor named Lawrence Goldyn.
“Goldyn made a huge impact on Barry Obama,” Garrow wrote in the book. “Almost a quarter century later, asked about his understanding of gay issues, Obama enthusiastically said, ‘my favorite professor my first year in college was one of the first openly gay people that I knew…He was a terrific guy” with whom Obama developed a ‘friendship beyond the classroom.’”
The biographer added, “Goldyn years later would remember that Obama ‘was not fearful of being associated with me’ in terms of ‘talking socially’ and ‘learning from me’ after as well as in class.”
“Three years later, Obama wrote somewhat elusively to his first intimate girlfriend that he had thought about and considered gayness, but ultimately had decided that a same-sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex,” Garrow wrote. “But there is no doubting that Goldyn gave eighteen-year-old Barry a vastly more positive and uplifting image of gay identity and self-confidence than he had known in Honolulu.”
* It’s ironic that marrying Michelle may have been the best decision he made for his political career, but that she seems to be the least supportive spouse in history. He won both because of her and in spite of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually divorce.
* [Jager] She is ethnically half-Dutch and half-Japanese.
* No doubt for the near future we will be treated to a parade of biographical information about our 44th president fleshing out the portrait of a hollow, repellent narcissist.
* When asked about Obama experimenting with homosexuality, Garrow replied, “I think anyone and everyone, no matter what their role in life deserves a certain basic degree of privacy, in that context.”
Meaning “yes he did”. So the usual question: who knew and on what subjects did they blackmail him?
* I doubt it was a marriage of convenience–more likely, Michelle combined the intellectual and educational background Obama needed in a wife to be able to talk to her and the cultural background (authentic American black) he wishes he had. They seem a *much* more natural couple than Jeb and his wife, say.
* Why has it taken almost a decade for this amount of detail about his early life to come out in the mainstream media? Any other President would have had the media outing this woman during the 2008 Primary. We knew this level of info about Romney’s grade school shenanigans minutes after he won his first Primary.
* “Three years later, Obama wrote somewhat elusively to his first intimate girlfriend that he had thought about and considered gayness, but ultimately had decided that a same-sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex,” Garrow wrote.
I’m sorry: What?!! Who has ever resolved sexual confusion that way?
He’s just bullshitting his girlfriend there, trying to sound thoughtful by spewing what is obvious nonsense to anyone but him. Apparently with the young BHO, it was bullshit all the way down.
* Well, I guess it’s nice that the least vetted Presidential candidate in the modern era is finally getting a bit of attention. I wonder if there are any other interesting snippets in the book that might have been missed (i.e. deliberately ignored) by the reviewers?
The fact that the press never uncovered any of this either during the initial campaign or during eight years of his Presidency only provides further proof — as if we needed any — that they are duplicitous liars and slavish suck-ups when their guy is in power.
* He’s faker than most people realized. Picking a wife with which to have children as part of a staging effort in order to sell himself politically is as sociopathic as one can get. One didn’t have to linger long to be puzzled as to what he and his wife really had in common, she having wider shoulders than her thin effeminate husband. Nobody ‘considers gayness’ unless they’re already there to begin with. His body language with his male roommate in one of his well known photos is rather gay. Is there any question left anymore that he’s bi? Had Clinton won we’d have had two bisexuals in a row as president. What would that say about the state of the republic? It’s not likely he’ll put all this into his $60M book which is guaranteed to be a bore.
* I don’t see how Michelle’s affirmative action degree from Princeton adds any intellect to the Obama’s marriage. That she was an authentic American black was no doubt a positive factor for him, but I think that he is obviously smarter than Michelle was just as big a factor. A narcissist like Barack Obama is not going to want a wife who is his intellectual equal.
* “what’s the significance of the cocaine use…?”
Um, it’s a felony?
It would have derailed, disbarred and ash-canned any white or Republican candidate?
* It seems that Barak’s intersectional career was genetically empowered by his wide open nostrils being well-suited for comfortable hoovering of large quantities of clearly drawn white lines.
Malia O. is on a path of such Regression to The Mean Luo, that the whole new wing of Betty Ford Institute would be named after her.
* I wonder how the former First Lady feels about being a tool of political advancement and how she reacted when she figured it out.
* That might be one of the reasons she looks pi$$ed off so often.
* The significance of the cocaine use to me is that he was able to walk away from it. Of the four people I knew who used cocaine, all four destroyed their lives with it.
* Did he though?
The abrupt change in personality described by Miyoshi-Jager sounds like the mania brought on by a coke habit.
* Yeah, reading that passage, I conclude that Obama had already experienced very real gay inclinations — inclinations that almost certainly wouldn’t go away. He chose to be heterosexual because it’s more demanding? Yeah, that’s going to make his nerves jangle when he looks at a woman rather than a man. And I don’t exactly see marriage — least of all to Michelle — putting a damper on those inclinations. I can see a woman entertaining both homosexuality and heterosexuality, and choosing one rather deliberately — but not a man, whose sexual impulses are far more urgent.
The overall picture here is of a guy who decides, based on his long term plans, what he’s going to be — e.g., “heterosexual” or “black” — and lives out that life.
I have to wonder if one fine day we won’t hear about Obama’s long hidden love for another man. Or will he go full Liberace, in denial to the end?
I have to wonder as well how this is going to affect what looks to me to be the rather shaky marriage between Michelle and Barack. (What was Barack doing those several weeks alone in the South Pacific? In how many healthy marriages would that happen?) I don’t really see Michelle being the tolerant type who will put up with the disrespect that comes with being identified as a beard, especially in the black community.
* I think the qualities of emperor/leader you describe are very dependent on the homogeneity of the electorate. An electorate evenly split between cohorts of very different values give the opportunity for a government-by-decree, which is generally how Obama ruled.
The Supreme Court mandate on proportional representation put the lid on the coffin of real representative government. Proportional representation gives racial demagogues like Luis Gutiérrez, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee absolutely no reason to take any broad constituency other than blacks or Mexican self-identified nationals, into account.
If you have smaller, more geographically homogeneous countries, there can be better representation in the government, rather than simply an exchange of dictators.
* I think Steve’s interest in the precise month/year BHO took the LSAT is related to the obvious change in his personality, his “blossoming,” as it were. Steve has written on this subject before: since there’s no evidence that Obama’s grades at either Occidental or Columbia were anything to write home about, something other than sheer affirmative action must have gotten him into Harvard Law School. Someone else did cross-tabulations on admissions to Harvard Law School from Columbia in the relevant year, and found that two African-American applicants from Columbia to HLS scored in the top few percentile on the LSAT (maybe 95th+ percentile). Steve reasoned that BHO was likely one of those two.
Steve further concluded that upon receiving his (presumably) very high LSAT score, BHO underwent a personality transformation of sorts, finally realizing that that a world-class political career was within his reach. And of course, once he got to Harvard Law School, everyone else treated him like the Black Messiah, and starting thinking of him as a potential president. How many people in their twenties have the cold self-knowledge to take excessive flattery as just that, as opposed to believing the hype? BHO believed the hype. Acing the LSAT made him think of himself as an ubermensch.
Self-delusion? Maybe. But how many countries have you been president of?