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Obama Is Not Naive About Power

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By now everybody acknowledges that Barack Obama is good at making speeches that inspire people with hope of a better America. "Yes We Can!" and all that.

But one of the recurrent raps against Obama is that he's naive, that he doesn't understand the realities of power, that he has his head in the clouds and doesn't understand that there are powers that must be overcome in order to accomplish the kinds of transformation of which he speaks.

If we had only these inspirational speeches to judge by, we might reasonably suspect that possibility.

But there is some other evidence available to us. And with this evidence in hand, it ceases to be reasonable to imagine Obama to be some naive fool ignorant of how power works in the world. That evidence comes from his book DREAMS FROM MY FATHER, a book published in 1995, when Obama was 33 years old and before he was involved in electoral politics.

Here's a passage from that book, from the part where he's describing his experience living in Indonesia, the native country of his stepfather whom his white American mother had recently married:

"In America, [power] had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here [in Indonesia] power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo [his Indonesian stepfather, who'd been forced by a new regime, following the coup that brought down Sukarno and that proceeded to murder at least half a million people for being thought political enemies] to return to Indonesia and get coerced and intimidated into a more lowly and more suppressed position than he'd hoped and been headed for] and yanked him into line just when he thought he'd escaped, making him feel the weight, letting him know that his life wasn't his own. That's how things were; you couldn't change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting..."

Here's an earlier passage in which Obama conveys how, as a boy of six or so, he learned about power from Lolo, not only from his life but from his teachings.

(Of him, Obama says:) So it was to Lolo that I turned for guidance and instruction...[H]is knowledge of the world seemed inexhaustible...He knew more elusive things, ways of managing the emotions I felt, ways to explain fate's constant mysteries.

Then Obama provides this iin illustration of the teachings he imbibed from this man of great "knowledge of the world":

"Have you ever seen a man killed?" I asked him.

He glanced down, surprised by the question.

"Have you?" I asked again.

"Yes," he said.

"Was it bloody?"


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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