You’ve heard a lot about our president in the months or years leading up to the upcoming election, some true, some not so true, some, just straight-up b.s.
“Washington Post” associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss wrote a book that gives us a look at the real President. It’s called Barack Obama: The Story. Maraniss sat down with Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss his book and more.
[INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MARANISS.]
MR. MARTIN: Now, David, I remarked about the cover. Straightforward!
MR. DAVID MARANISS: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: “Barack Obama: The Story David Maraniss.” You – you pretty much wanted to keep it simple because, for you, you wanted to tell just the story.
MR. MARANISS: You know, I wanted to tell the story, and I wanted it to be so simple, that people wouldn’t think, “Oh, I already know this story.” Because my whole process of research is to find things that nobody’s actually found before and to tell the story fresh. You know, there’s so much mythology about people – especially Barack Obama – on one side or another, that I want ’em to know that I’m coming at it straight and simple, and the real story.
MR. MARTIN: What is interesting about him is this really is a rather complex individual –
MR. MARANISS: Oh, yes[?].
MR. MARTIN: — with a complex story.
MR. MARANISS: [Chuckles.] Oh, absolutely. There’s so much – I mean all of us are, to some degree, random creatures –
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum/
MR. MARANISS: — right? We’re all created by random events. But – but Barack Obama is the most unlikely of those sorts of characters. You know, born from the entire world – you know, with a Kenyan father and mother meeting in Hawaii in a Russian class and – and just the way that they – that they both got to that time and place.
And then for him, thi- — what this book really is, Roland, is two things. It’s about the world that created Barack Obama and then how he recreated himself. Given all of the contradictions of life that he was born into, that he had to deal with from the day he was born, how did he figure it out? How did he get to that point where he could have the political life? And that’s really what this book tries to –
MR. MARTIN: When you look at –
MR. MARANISS: — explain.
MR. MARTIN: — some of these other books being done – and a lot of folks on the right wing are putting out books, saying, oh, he’s believing in colonialism. I mean – I mean just all kind[s] of just –
MR. MARANISS: It’s so much –
MR. MARTIN: — wild stuff.
MR. MARANISS: — garbage!
MR. MARTIN: Whe- — when – when you s- — when you see that kind of stuff, does it – does it make you guy, “Guy-” – “Guys, come on! W-” – “What in the heck are you doing?”
MR. MARANISS: Well, I have various reactions to it. It infuriates me because, you know, it’s fine to disagree on policy; but when people spread misinformation; unhistorical, fictional, mythological stories – that’s a danger t- — that’s a danger to all of us. And so that infuriates me, so I sort of vacillate between trying to ignore them – because it’s so preposterous – and trying to deal with them.
So, this book actually deals with a lot of the basic mythologies – you know, from the birther issue to the Muslim issue to many others. I mean I’m trying to give you the his- — the documents and the – the serious research that shows the true story.
MR. MARTIN: I always love to ask authors – what was that one thing that even caught you by surprise, where you said, “Wow”? What was it for you – in researching his story?
MR. MARANISS: Well, there were a few things. I mean, obviously, finding his girlfriend was one of those, because in his memoi- —
MR. MARTIN: His college girlfriend.
MR. MARANISS: — his college girlfriend. You know, in his memoir he writes about “I loved a girl in New York once.” Every journalist in America, when they read that, said, “Who is it?”
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. MARANISS: “Gotta find her.”
I knew I had to for this book. It took me three years, and it was quite a search. And then once I did find her, what was important to me was that it wasn’t really a – she kept a journal, and she gave it to me. But it’s not that it was salacious. It – it’s that it was revealing. This woman, a young Australian, was writing when Barack Obama was 22 and 23, “I know there’s a strong, Black woman out there for him somewhere.” She was watching him as he was making – sort of searching for his identity, find- — trying to find himself in the African-American community. She was very observant about that. She was also observant about what she called the “veil” between him and the rest of the world, y- — anybody who’s dealt with him notices at various times – you know, that sort of reserve.
And so finding her was – was really important to me for those reasons.
Now, in other shock- — you know, not shocking things, but really revealing, you know, his – his – the title of his memoir is Dreams from My Father. And it’s in the sense – along with its – his search for racial identity, it’s about the hole in his life that not having a father presented. Well, when I found more about his father, it became apparent to me that he was lucky he never lived with his dad. His father –
MR. MARTIN: Why is that?
MR. MARANISS: — was not – was brilliant, but – he was not just an alcoholic; he was physically abusive. And I interviewed his third wife, another American woman, who described in great detail the – the difficulties of living with an ab- — with a physically abusive, violent man. And that would’ve been a – trouble for young Barack, you know. So, you know, it’s no- — it’s not an easy thing for anyone to say, but I think nonetheless it’s true that he was probably better off not having to deal with that father that was such a hole in his life.
MR. MARTIN: You look at political animals – Al Gore, Bill Clinton. You look at any number of people. They always had this intense focus on politics. He didn’t.
MR. MARANISS: Bill Clinton – man, you know, I wrote a biography of him, too. Clinton was – wanted – wanted to be president from the day he was born – right? I mean he ran for president of every office in high school so much, that when he was a senior, the principal, Johnnie Mae Mackey, came to him and said, “Billy, you can’t run for class president. We’re sick of you!”
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARANISS: [Chuckles.] You know. So, he said, “Okay, I’ll run for class secretary.”
He ran against his girlfriend, and she beat ’im, and he wouldn’t talk to her for weeks. I mean that’s Clinton.
And then, you know, he gets to Georgetown. Class president – all the way along.
You see none of that with Barack Obama, really. In – in high school, he basically played basketball and fooled around. He was a pretty good student, but not really applying himself. For the next eight years after that, he’s trying to find his self-identity, and it’s only really when he got to Chicago in 1985 and spent three years as a community organizer, studying power – the power of corporations over the people, the power – the charismatic electoral power of Harold Washington, the first African-Acom- [sic] – [A]merican mayor of Chicago – it was only during those three years that he started to think really about he wanted a life in – in that sense. But before that, you saw none of it.
MR. MARTIN: Well, it is certainly a – a remarkable story.
Folks, simple. Barack Obama: The Story. Author David Maraniss.
David, we appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
MR. MARANISS: Thank you, Roland.
MR. MARTIN: All right!