Obama biographer: “The vessel was hollow to the core”

David Garrow, the award-winning biographer of Martin Luther King, has written a biography of Barack Obama. It’s called Rising Star.

Carlos Lozada, a liberal who reviews books for the Washington Post, considers Garrow’s biography of Obama here. According to Lozada:

Garrow. . .concludes his 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.”

Based on Lozada’s review, it appears that Garrow supports this conclusion in part by examining Obama’s relationship with his long-time girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager. The two nearly married, but ultimately, according to Jager:

The marriage discussions [were clouded by Obama’s] torment over this central issue of life. . .race and identity. [The] resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career.

In this telling, Obama worried that marrying a non-black would preclude a successful career in Chicago politics. A source close to Obama and Jager recalled Obama saying “if I’m going out with a white women, I have no standing here.”

Lozado points out that, like Obama’s mother, Jager studied anthropology. The mother focused on Indonesia; Jager focused on Korea. He also notes that Jager, of Dutch and Japanese ancestry, fit the multicultural world that Obama occupied, but was starting to leave behind. She did not fit the world of black identity politics towards which Obama was gravitating.

I tend towards skepticism when it comes to analyzing why one person loves another and why someone decides (or decides not) to marry. But then, I haven’t read Garrow’s book. It’s possible that he makes a strong case that Obama did not marry Jager in significant part because he thought her race would undermine his political “standing.”

Garrow does seem to have a good case that an interracial marriage would have posed a political problem for Obama, as this passage from Lozada’s review shows:

For black politicians in Chicago, Garrow 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.”

If so, then black politics in Chicago 30 years ago were overtly racist. I wonder where else this was the case, and whether it is still the case today.

Sheila Miyoshi Jager, who now teaches at Oberlin, was basically written out of Dreams From My Father, Obama’s “autobiography.” She is compressed into a single character along with two prior Obama girlfriends.

Garrow calls Obama’s enthusiastically-received book, a work of “historical fiction,” in which the “most important composite character was the narrator.” Jager told Garrow that “the narrator” had “a deep-seated need to be loved.”

Some psychiatrists are claiming that President Trump is a malignant narcissist. But Trump’s big book was The Art of the Deal, not a bogus autobiography in which the author presents himself as an idealized composite character.

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