Two prominent journalists have bashed former President Barack Obama’s memoir as “shallow and dishonest.” In a review entitled “The Fraudulent Universalism of Barack Obama,” Luke Savage and Nathan J. Robinson take Obama to task over the stories he details in Volume 1 of his record-breaking book, “A Promised Land.”
“The 44th president’s new memoir showcases his impressive storytelling skills – and the dishonesty and shallowness of the stories he tells,” the article states. Then it goes to great lengths to illustrate its stance. Here are 5 reasons these journalists called Obama’s memoir “shallow and dishonest.”
According to Savage and Robinson, Barack Obama’s memoir is the embodiment of Matt Taibbi’s 2007 description of him as “an ingeniously crafted human cipher” whose “‘man for all seasons’ act is so perfect in its particulars that just about anyone can find a bit of himself somewhere in the candidate’s background.”
As an example of this, they highlight the 44th Commander-in-Chief’s description of the White House Rose Garden.
“As elegant as his paean to the Rose Garden, Obama’s more literary passages ultimately achieve something else: the fusion of his thoughts and biography with anything and everything he finds around him. On a rhetorical level, the effect is incredibly potent, giving the impression of a thoughtful leader perpetually grappling with the infinite complexities and nuances of a world rendered in glorious technicolor. Aesthetically pleasing though it may be, this mode of storytelling does more to obscure than illuminate the author’s actual beliefs, its imagery and style being so polychromatic that anyone can, indeed, find their own preferences or tastes represented somewhere between the lines,” Savage and Robinson wrote.
As other critics have noted, the journalists acknowledged Obama’s incredible writing talent. However, they also posited (like several others) that for all his beautiful imagery, Obama still shares very little substantive information in his memoir.
Citing a passage in which Obama discusses the dichotomy which exists on his foreign policy team, they highlight how he also reconciles their differences to tie everything up neatly in a bow.
“All told, the passage is emblematic of Obama’s remarkable capacity to evoke tremendous nuance and complexity while saying very little, any apparent difference or conflict between the ideas he’s discussing smoothed over by way of elegant rhetorical synthesis,” the review says. “(Thus in this case, for those following along, we ultimately get a foreign policy team whose members are sorted into binarily opposing camps: young/old, hard/soft, unilateral/multilateral—with these distinctions being collapsed under the vague umbrella of “internationalism,” then modified by the caveat that proponents of soft power also believed in hard power and vice versa. This formulation is then further qualified by the proviso that younger members who wanted to break from the staid orthodoxies of the Washington playbook nonetheless held the foreign policy establishment they ostensibly disliked in high esteem.)”
Obama’s book is filled with “elegant obfuscations and literary digressions,” the journalists posit. They said Obama “frequently proves difficult to pin down.”
“For all his talk of grand aspirations and hopes, then, Obama does not come across as someone with a very strong or clearly-defined set of political goals. It is striking, in fact, given the book’s subject matter and length, how little he says about why he wanted to hold elected office in the first place, what he does offer in this regard mostly taking the form of empty platitudes,” they wrote.
“Again and again, Obama appears reluctant to define himself by any particular political ideology. The author says he wanted to ‘avoid doctrinaire thinking,’ instead ‘plac[ing] a premium on what worked’ and ‘listen[ing] respectfully to what the other side had to say,’” Savage and Robinson added. “Throughout his political career (as in A Promised Land) Obama tended to deal in uplifting abstractions rather than concrete promises or objectives, even of the wonky kind.”
Throughout their critique of Obama’s memoir, Savage and Robinson point to his “abstract political storytelling.”
“One passage in the book’s opening chapter dramatically underscores the extent to which Obama’s notion of idealism is much more an affection rooted in abstract political storytelling than an orientation towards any particular goal,” they wrote.
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Another reason Savage and Robinson criticized Obama’s memoir as “shallow and dishonest” is because they believe he is inauthentic, manipulative and calculating when he includes what thy deem revisionist history throughout it.
“Again and again these questions pile up, their tone always pensive, probing, and self-critical. A Promised Land is effective in large part because it feels authentic and true, as if Obama is offering a thoughtful examination of his motives, successes, and failures,” Savage and Robinson wrote. “The capacity to engage in self-criticism, even of the harshest kind, makes it seem like he is being straight with us and offering up an objective reading of events. Thus when Obama fails to convincingly answer his own questions or begins to distort the truth in ways that seem deliberate, it begins to seem that his authenticity may be a performance, a calculated act rather than genuine soul-bearing.”
According to Savage and Robinson, in his effort to avoid offending on a large scale, in his memoir Obama withheld empathy for those who needed it most and excused those who didn’t deserve it.
They said Obama failed to give empathy to Rev. Jeremiah Wright by providing context to the clips he came under fire for in 2008 when the preacher said “God D**n America” yet gave a pass to George W. Bush and America as a whole.
“But the more one scrutinizes A Promised Land, the more one feels manipulated. Obama powerfully performs empathy and modesty and conviction, but when one steps back and asks ‘Empathy for whom?’ or ‘Conviction about what?’ the whole thing begins to look shallow. His empathy is also selective,” they state.
Near the conclusion of their review, the journalists reiterated Obama’s “all-things to all people” approach persists throughout his memoir and his feigned naivety makes him all the more dishonest.
“Barack Obama is not stupid. He understands the world better than any previous American president. As a Black man, he has seen too much to accept the country’s most galling lies about itself. In a recent interview, Obama was relatively honest about the Democratic Party’s lurch to the right, pointing out the effect of “free market ideology” on “unraveling the social compact.” But Obama is, as always, the prisoner of etiquette and norms. He knows what the Iraq war was, but cannot call his predecessor a criminal. He knew the CIA tortured people, but would not prosecute its malefactors. He knew the financial crisis would destroy millions of livelihoods and make the rich even richer, but rejected popular demands for activist government. Being the kind of president some progressives hoped and believed he would be would have required him to militate against an order he committed to defend decades ago. It also would have required the abandonment of his ‘everything to everyone’ aspiration and necessitated the discarding of his own carefully-crafted universalist identity,” they wrote.
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