Barack Obama is frequently praised as a remarkable orator in contemporary politics. Nonetheless, while his speaking abilities are acknowledged, as an individual who personally attended several of his speeches, I struggled to comprehend the extent of the acclaim. Setting aside his notable “red states, blue states” speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which called for political moderation but was inconsistent with his subsequent actions, most of Obama’s memorable statements comprised either campaign clichés such as “hope and change” or comments that unintentionally revealed more about him.
One remark that stands out in the latter category is his 2013 comment about congressional Republicans: “We’re going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s going to be best for the country.” The term “permission structure” is marketing jargon, used to facilitate individuals embracing change by creating a scaffold for them to relinquish deeply held beliefs. The audacity of applying consumer manipulation terminology to politics is emblematic of an egocentric approach to governance. Instead of addressing honorable dissent towards his policies, which were often politically extreme and resisted by voters, the Obama administration focused on constructing narratives, often aided by a compliant media, to coax people into adopting his views.
David Samuels’ interview with Obama biographer David Garrow in Tablet Magazine provides a “permission structure” for many Obama supporters and moderates to question his legacy. Garrow’s interview delivers a thorough critique of Obama’s presidency, revealing him as a largely overrated, unsuccessful leader who concealed his radicalism. Moreover, Garrow, a respected historian known for his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., compares Obama to King, emphasizing Obama’s flaws compared to King’s historic achievements. Garrow’s opinions about Obama range from dismissive to contemptuous.
Garrow’s observations are particularly impactful as they’re grounded in factual revelations and his deep knowledge of MLK, who Garrow studied extensively. Garrow deftly criticizes MLK’s imperfections while acknowledging his significant accomplishments. In contrast, Garrow finds Obama to be far from the exceptional leader his supporters believed him to be. Obama’s overuse of phrases like “arc of history,” alongside his rejection of certain aspects of King’s vision, exemplifies his inconsistency. Obama’s hesitance to embrace American exceptionalism, as highlighted by Garrow, adds to the growing body of evidence that he is more aligned with divisive ideologies than with unifying American ideals.
Garrow’s interview is a compelling exploration of Obama’s background, revealing aspects that are in tension with his carefully cultivated image. For instance, Garrow challenges elements of Obama’s memoir, especially concerning his relationships. The interview even sheds light on Obama’s refusal to condemn antisemitism in the context of Chicago politics, a stance that contrasts starkly with his own narrative of unifying racial progress.
Ultimately, Garrow’s in-depth analysis contributes to a more balanced understanding of Obama’s presidency. It suggests that his leadership was not the embodiment of King’s legacy but rather a demonstration of flawed character, failed policies, and an inability to consistently uphold American ideals. The interview echoes conservative critiques of Obama’s presidency, underlining the importance of historical honesty and critical assessment in shaping a comprehensive perspective on political leaders.