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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How well do we know Barack Obama?

Posted By on 10.14.08 at 06:21 PM

David Samuels, writing in the New Republic, says Barack Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father is a "terrific book--an insightful, well-written, cunningly organized black male bildungsroman that also serves as a kind of autobiographical rejoinder to one of my favorite American novels, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man."

But Samuels argues that the author decided to run for president by becoming a variety of Ellison's invisible man, "disowning the most striking parts of his own voice and transforming himself into a blank screen for the fantasy-projection of the electorate." Ellison knew what he was talking about, says Samuels, who's not sure Obama could get elected any other way,

But he's guardedly optimistic about an Obama presidency. The candidate not only grew up in the four corners of the earth but did so inside the skin of the people who inhabit those four corners. Samuels comments hopefully, "The same qualities that make Obama invisible to America make him visible to the rest of the world."

In the same issue, the New Republic's Noam Scheiber makes the trek to Wasilla to get the lowdown on Sarah Palin from some friends and more foes who knew her when. I think one reason Palin excites journalists so much is that she gives them lots of brand-new rocks to look under. Samuels's meditation on Obama is journalism without the rocks, and to me it was a tonic.

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