Sep 10, 2012 - Irony    No Comments

An interesting take on Barack Obama’s writing style

An interesting take on Senator Barack Obama’s writing style, though I wouldn’t grant the senator as much literary genius as the article implies.

That’s not to say that Obama is a bad writer–when he restrains himself, he’s actually quite gifted. The problem I have is with how Obama depicts himself in Dreams from My Father: he’s a lost son searching for his roots, a loner often given to pages of introspection on how events have shaped his outlook on a range of issues, most notably poverty and race relations. He seems to have had a pretty uneventful life, and is painfully aware of that fact: the book is less focused on his life and more focused on self-reflection. (In the introduction, written almost ten years later, Obama writes, "… I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.") Those delving into the book searching for character flaws and dirty laundry will be disappointed: if we’re to take the Dreams from My Father at face value (and, as with most memoirs, I hesitate to do so), Obama’s character is impeccable–at worst, he learns from his mistakes, and comes away from them humbled and much better as a person. (Yes, the Reverend Richard Wright figures in the story, but his role is small and Obama glosses over his past in a few sentences: "He had grown up in Philadelphia, the son of a Baptist minister. He had resisted his father’s vocation at first, joining the Marines out of college, dabbling with liquor, Islam, and black nationalism in the sixties." However, his effect on Obama’s views seems negligible, with Obama disagreeing with some of the Reverend’s views on race relations.)

Yet Dreams from My Father is notable in that it was written without an agenda (unlike anything "written" by Senator John McCain). When it was first published, Obama was years away from running for the Senate, so there’s no sense that he’s refuting common political attacks, or that he’s making an effort to portray himself in the most favorable light. Sure, this may be the most undiluted portrait we’re going to get from a presidential candidate, but it’s weighed down with needless description and overwritten sentiment. There’s no doubt that Obama is incredibly intelligent and well-read, but Dreams from My Father, while eloquent in places, isn’t a great book–it’s mediocre at best, and downright dull at worst. There’s a sense that Obama is preaching, but what he’s preaching is often lost amidst blocks of text and overly-wrought emotional drama. It’s the portrait of someone who would likely go on to great things–but not great things as a writer.

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