OBAMA THE CHAMELEON ; Ruthlessly Ambitious: Barack Obama in 1987 with His African Half-Brothers Abongo (Left) and Ben
Byline: David Jones
OF ALL Barack Obamas many gifts, perhaps the greatest is his power to communicate with people of all colours, creeds and classes. It is a tribute to his talent that, despite his lack of experience in pursuing the highest office in the world, we think we know all about him. His easy familiarity before the cameras is one of the major reasons why he was such an odds-on favourite to become the first black President of America.
But what is going on behind that implacable facade, and how did he rise with such velocity?
Obamas response, when faced with this question, is always the same. He has written two autobiographies totalling 800 pages and all his secrets are contained therein. He shrugs: What else do you want to know about me?
For the uninitiated, the narrative Obama presents is as follows. As the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, he was raised by his well-meaning, but out-of-touch grandparents in Hawaii, where he suffered an angry, alienated, racially tormented youth.
During his teens, he says, he sought oblivion by smoking cannabis and snorting cocaine the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man.
But in his 20s he found his identity by joining the black civil rights movement, as a community worker in the ghettoes of Chicago.
After gaining a Harvard law degree, he became a local politician. Then finally, as if by preordination, he found himself on the road to greatness.
It is a parable that happens to be perfectly suited to any aspiring U.S. President in these troubled times. However, we would do well to remember that Obamas books, though beautifully crafted, were written by an ambitious politician.
We can therefore take it as read that he has good reason to disguise the characters with pseudonyms, conflate key incidents and remember selectively.
By talking to Obamas relatives and friends, his past and present colleagues, I have uncovered a very different Barack Obama story.
With his exotic East African-Mid Western background, one of the fundamentals of Obamas popular appeal is that he promises to bridge the great chasm which still divides Americas black, white and Hispanic communities. And nowhere more than in his adopted home city of Chicago.
The role seems to come to him naturally and effortlessly, but this is far from true.
In fact, he only learned to move seamlessly between these polarised worlds in his 30s, when he realised he would have to broaden his appeal if he was ever to fulfil his huge ambition.
Obamas working life began in New York, where he was briefly employed as a financial writer.
He cites two reasons for turning his back on a potentially lucrative career in business. First, as the only black employee in his company above the level of cleaner or security guard, he felt like an outsider.
Second, and more intriguingly, he says he split up with a white girlfriend who failed to understand his need to immerse himself in black culture.
The relationship ended, he recalls, after he visited her well-heeled grandfathers country house. As he gazed at the photographs of great white statesmen on the mantelpiece, it dawned on him that he would have to abandon his roots to remain with her.
For an aspiring black politician, this is a powerful metaphor but one has to question its veracity. Nobody I have spoken to can recall seeing Obama with the mysterious WASP girlfriend. Furthermore, given that every minute detail of his life has been scrutinised since he declared his intention to run for office, surely she would have been identified by now if she existed?
In any case, what were these roots?
Apart from the four years when he lived in Indonesia with his mother and her second husband, Obama spent his youth in a comfortable Honolulu apartment with his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham. …