Tuesday 12 December 2017

Tim Stanley: The home truths about Barack Obama that his biographers didn’t bother to tell us about

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

WE all live a mixture of myth and reality. Our identities are constructed out of handed down "tall tales" of ancestors who fought the good fight at the Battle of the Boyne, ghostwrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, or single-handedly sank the Bismarck. Everyone does it, even Presidents of the United States.

David Maraniss’s biography of Barack Obama is out and it questions the accuracy of the President’s personal story – so much so that Maraniss describes it as “received myth, not the truth.” Maraniss is no Tea Party partisan. Aside from being a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, he conducted a lengthy interview with Obama himself and warned him in advance of the inaccuracies that he would be reporting. The President conceded that some of his biography was gleaned from the failing memories of family members and may not be 100pc true.

The young Obama that emerges from Maraniss’s book is complex and likeable. At college he smoked clove cigarettes in the style of a doobie, idled around in his red Fiat, lived on bowls of cereal, knew how to charm a lady, and used Brut spray deodorant. He was, in short, a regular guy. Interestingly he also carried around a worn copy of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a novel about an African-American’s struggle for identity in a postwar America that barely regards him as a human being.

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