The above-average Obama

The Washington Post tries to close the “stature gap” with this puff piece about Barack Obama. The headline of the article by Peter Slevin is “Obama Forged Political Mettle In Illinois.”
Slevin satisfactorily shows that Obama was an above-average Illinois lawmaker. But how much mettle did Obama show when he voted “present” instead of yea or nay on such issues as late-term abortion and parental notification?
Andrew Ferguson has a much more insightful look at Obama in the Weekly Standard. Ferguson’s vehicle is Obama’s two books. He finds that the first, Dreams From My Father, easily exceeds the average of its genre — 1990s autobiographies by upstarts who had no business writing autobiographies. Indeed, Ferguson suggests that, at times, Obama transcends that genre. Perhaps this was because he “lack[ed] the solipsistic urge that propelled [other] youngsters deep into a glowering contemplation of their innermost, uninteresting selves.”
In Ferguson’s estimation, Obama’s more recent effort, The Audacity of Hope, also exceeds, though just barely, the low standard for “campaign books.” It is “only marginally more memorable, though much better written, than such classics of the genre as John Kerry’s A Call to Service or George W. Bush’s A Charge to Keep.” Audacity, says Ferguson

is high-minded and abstract, pumped with the helium of political rhetoric and discussions about policy–health care or budgeting, for example–that seem just serious enough to bore any reader except someone who knows enough about policy to find them tendentious and superficial.

Read together, Obama’s works have “a narrative arc of their own, as the writer of the first book–the dreamy, painfully sensitive, funny, and not quite wised-up memoirist–slowly fades from view behind the gummy presence of the author of the second, the careful ingratiating main chancer.” In the end, “we have lost a writer and gained another politician; It’s not a fair trade.”
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