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“Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama” by David Galloway (Morrow, 2017)

Review by Steven Travers

In 2017 David Garrow published his monumental, epic biography, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (Morrow). There have been a number of Obama books published prior to this, none of which interested me enough to read them much less write a long, detailed review of them, as this piece surely will be by the time I get everything I have to say off my chest.

There were of course not one but two self-serving autobiographies by the man himself, both best sellers. It did not seem necessary to read them; Obama’s own words often were self-indictments of far left sympathy or obvious lies, re-printed in social media by his detractors and easily accessible. 

There were several right-wing screeds detailing his many faults, but this seemed little more than a recitation of conservative talk radio. Then there were a couple fawning bios, such as David Maranassis’s Obama: The Story (2012), which did not sell. 

I had no intention of delving into Obama, having suffered him for eight years as President preceded by four years of hype built on a lie he delivered at the 2004 DNC that essentially told the world that if John Kerry were elected to the White House Arab-American families would no longer need to cower in fear in the night, when in fact they were not cowering in fear in the night under George W. Bush, and after W.’s re-election continued not to cower in fear in the night. As you might imagine, this assertion got under my skin. 

Then I read some reviews of Rising Star that stated it was quite critical of Obama, which led me to believe that finally I had come across a touch of honesty in the media; perhaps once he was out of office his sacred legend need not be protected from the hordes of conservatism and some real reflection of who and what this guy was could be rendered. Was this the place to find it?

Reading about Obama took a tremendous amount of effort and discipline on my part. Normally if I am going to invest so much time into something it would be about something I love and respect, say USC football or Ronald Reagan or how America kicked Adolf Hitler’s ass, but something told me I needed to learn something, if for no other reason than how to prevent it from happening again, to paraphrase George Santayana. It seemed throughout the long slog of a read (1,078 pages of text, plus almost 500 pages of notes and indexes) which took me months to wade through, that the reviews stating Garroway was hard on Obama had been wrong; the book is often very favorable, seeks people who found him to be magnificent, and thus had me scratching my head. It was for me incredibly hard also because I found no there there; no great story, no stirring narrative, no accomplishments, no upward trajectory based on entrepreneurial victories, or acts of great statesmanship that changed history, or military valor, or any other sort of winning pedigree reserved for great Americans. None of this was the author’s fault. He had his subject and his material and only so much to work with. But I read and read and read. Finally, as the book wore on, the criticisms of Obama finally worked their way to the surface, and it was in the meticulous research and painstaking uncovering of who and what he is that these truths became self–evident. By the very, very, very end we see a king with no clothes.

As the reader no doubt discerns by now I am no Obama fan, and this requires full disclosure. I am a whole-hearted, conservative Republican of the Ronald Reagan school who initially backed Ted Cruz but voted without reservation for Donald Trump and after over two years backs his policies because the fact they work is not an opinion. But my partisanship is important in that a partisan Democrat of the same fervor would never allow himself to write any fair review of Trump, or W. or anything on my side of the aisle, whereby conservatives like me do seek the truth in order to back our opinions. Essentially and in a nutshell we do so because most of us believe in a God who knows our hearts and minds, and judges us if we lie, so we try to make sure our instincts are not just emotions but based on reality. This is how I approached this book and whether any liberal believes it or not, which is immaterial to me, this is how I am writing this review. In fact conservatives are the ones who really are well rounded because we are forced by the mainstream media and academia to hear the leftist view in addition to hearing the right in our personal niches, which consist of Fox, conservative radio, a few web sites, and a select group of print publications like Newsmax and to a slight degree The Wall Street Journal

An example of this before I get into the review would be on the issue of “global warming.” The liberal hears only the liberal view and considers it sacrosanct. The conservative of course hears the liberal view because it is everywhere and impossible to avoid, but also hears of the many, many scientists who dispute the “settled science” fallacy. In other words we are smarter and know more. We have heard both views and can try and arrive at a smart conclusion in the George Will veign, as opposed to the left who does not even know those contrarian scientists exist and therefore remains in a cave. 

But I digress; on to Barack Obama. 

First, Garroway as best I can tell is a member in good standing of the liberal, academic orthodoxy. He has written for The Nation and The New Republic, who would never dare allow conservative principles to be uttered in such a way as to be read by humans. His books are mainly centered around liberal civil rights icons like Martin Luther King, although he may have played his hand as I read in another review that he dared go into detail about Dr. King’s motel sex adventures, which was at the heart of J. Edgar Hoover’s hatred of him as a hypocrite. But these escapades are so well known they cannot be papered over no matter how sycophantic and filled with white guilt a writer may be. 

But the real, ultimately damning fact that eventually backs up my original feeling about Obama is in the research. I do not know if I have ever read such a thoroughly researched book. From Obama’s birth, childhood in Hawaii, his time in Indonesia, his years at the prestigious Punahou School, and especially his college years at Occidental and Columbia, Garroway leaves no stone unturned. He talks to his friends, the people in the infamous “choom gang,” his lady friends, social fellows; anybody who Obama crossed paths with. His detail in tracking down all these people is awesome. I see no evidence the effort was performed with Obama’s cooperation, so presumably Barack did not go through his address book to make it easy to track all these people, many of whom long since dropped away from Obama’s life. There is no “Obama conversation” for the book, only available records, speeches, news reports, and of course numerous recollections.

In Obama’s years working in New York, his first effort as a community organizer in Chicago, his Harvard Law School tenure, second Chicago organizing stint, and then years in both the Illinois legislature and U.S. Senate, again Garroway finds every fly on the wall, or so it would seem. 

Lastly, Obama’s Presidential years are given a run-through that is totally separate from the book. Garroway has determined to figure how Obama’s star rose, but does little major research beyond the available record in detailing his White House years, yet despite this, it is the contrast between the shining hope attributed Obama and the absolute nothing of his eight years in Washington that Garroway is able to hit home on what a major disappointment the man and his Presidency were; what a zero legacy he leaves; and what a failed White House he had. It requires sticking with one of the longest books I have ever read to eventually discern all this, but I paid attention and indeed did find it in spades. 

Communist conspiracy theories

Finally, before getting into the meat of this review, I must point out what Garroway does not write about. These are the various conspiracy theories that swirl around Obama’s life, beginning with his grandparents to his birth, his madrasa years, his connection with a major Communist, his college records, his associations with Socialists, anarchists and Muslims, and his connection to radical homegrown terror. Only his friendship with Jeremiah Wright is fleshed out, albeit from an apologetic angle.

Now pretending all these conspiracy theories never existed is strange and wrong. It seems Garroway would like to just eliminate them from the conscience by not writing about them, but no matter how outlandish, they are part of the Obama story if for no other reason he had to confront the accusations and stories that were meant to chip away at his carefully orchestrated self-image.  

While some who spouted wild accusations against Obama were nutty, not all were. Many intelligent, purposeful folks found Obama’s story troubling and possibly dangerous and were well intentioned in trying to get to the bottom of it. The left of course just swatted it all away under the guise of racism, but of course the fact that is not true just exists as the actual thing that is . . . in real life.

Certainly the theory that Michelle Obama was actually a man, that possibly photo-cropped images of her with big dangling genitalia, were not worthy of mention, but I have proffered my own theories about who and what this guy was.

This was why I bought the book. When asked why I was reading about this “evil man,” I stated that, “I wanted to find out how he became a Communist” or how “a Communist can become President.” The simple fact is that conspiracy theories are often just smart people thinking about things.  Germany’s “enigma code” was just a conspiracy theory until smart people uncovered what it was. So was the Venona Project, Alger Hiss’s Soviet espionage, the “Tonkin Ghosts” and Watergate. We have a duty to explore and research our leaders, which the left utterly failed to do with Barack. Today they are overplaying their hand with Trump, which will help Trump in the end, but that is another discussion. 

In looking at some of my conspiratorial ideas surrounding Obama, it is first important to understand what Communism is. This is worthy of a long dissertation, but in short it no longer is a centralized super power centered in the Soviet Union under the banner of the hammer and sickle. 

However, many fail to recognize that Communism is a psychology that never goes away, just as “white supremacy” (Nazism) or greed or any of the many sins of the world never go away. The U.S. came of age representing something, a way of life, a jingoistic, oft-simple John Wayne image that was the polar opposite of what Communism/Socialism was, but winning the Cold Way did not mean people who think like Communists would just disappear. Most who might be “Communists” or modern Socialists would never think of themselves as such, which is the beauty of Communism in the first place; its subversiveness lending itself to big government, racism, homosexuality, victimhood, feminism, and many other isms, is in obvious display in the modern Democrat Party. The result is that crimes that would have gotten a man tossed in jail in the 1950s are now the organic policies of the left. Nobody has to recruit them or give them marching orders. The American public school and academic systems trot them out, the media and Democrat policies find and refine them. Thus does an Obama emerge, and thus do people just ascend to positions of bureaucratic power who will naturally do what he wants, like IRS agents doing damage to Republicans, without being asked. When these people can infiltrate the FBI, it becomes dangerous unless exposed. The fact is there are just too many people like me in this country who won’t let them get away with it, which is why they are not getting away with it, but try as I might, I and my brethren could not stop the Obama avalanche.

Let me get the Obama conspiracies out of the way here and now; the ones Garroway assiduously pretends did not exist. I had understood his white grandparents to be liberal academics of the 1950s, in Kansas. I had heard that the CIA used such people as moles in the McCarthy years, but Garroway’s book shows this highly unlikely. They were not “liberal academics.” Obama’s grandfather, Stanley Dunham, was just a working man whose jobs consisted of working in a furniture store. There is no evidence presented by the author that their daughter was introduced to Obama’s Kenyan father as part of an “interracial birth match” of some kind, although despite all the research, the attraction, the courtship, the short marriage and the whole very, very odd arrangement, on many levels; none of it is explained as so many others parts of Obama’s life are.

Next is the birth, which is given very short thrift only as a political matter of his Presidency. Again, I once read that members of the hospital staff of 1961 under subpoena stated the wing of the hospital he was born in said it did not exist in 1961. Sure, that could have been “fake news.” Further, a friend of mine born in that same hospital in the chaotic days just after Pearl Harbor sent away for his birth certificate at the height of the Obama “short form” controversy and within a short time received what Obama was unable to produce, a satisfying U.S. birth certificate that looked a lot different than the one Obama produced. This does not prove anything really but was it not worth exploring?

Then there is my pet conspiracy, which frankly I have never been able to shake. While the current left-wing climate produces people who think like enemies of the state without being recruited or trained, in the early 1960s the Soviets had a very active recruitment of moles, spies, plants, “fellow travelers” and the like. They were rooted out by blackmail, by sexual orientation, or by active opposition to Vietnam. For instance I always theorized that during Bill Clinton’s trip to Moscow in 1969 the KGB cornered him, told him they knew he would be a rising star of Democrat politics, and would like to establish lines of communication unavailable with hardliners like Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. 

Movies and TV shows like No Way Out, Little Nikita, The Ghost Writer and Homeland have mined this fertile “conspiracy theory” for all it is worth, and it looks to be as much game theory as conspiracy theory. 

The recent exposition of ex-CIA director John Brennan as a Communist in his youth increases my conspiracy ideas. Is it possible that the Soviets and maybe even Islamic groups aligning themselves with the U.S.S.R. in the 1960s had a program of youth development? Vladimir Putin in his KGB years recruited young Americans; Brennan seems a good target. Obama? Could they have known each other since this association? Certainly Brennan’s Communist past not only did not prevent him from getting a security clearance, but it seems when Obama found out about it, he liked him more because of it!

Next is Obama’s period in Indonesia. Garroway does great work mining the Indonesia years, which could not be easy, but Obama’s Muslim indoctrination in a madrasa is not mentioned at all. As I have theorized before, if somebody wanted to make sure somebody was ripe to hate America, not to mention avoid becoming a Dallas Cowboys fan, a Christian, or some other very American thing, where better than to stick him in a Muslim madrasa? Again, I had heard that Obama’s step-father, Lolo Soetoro, got an executive job with a U.S. oil company, and that when he made such a capitalistic turn, Obama’s mother, Ann, apparently out of fealty to Communism, Socialism and the oppressed, divorced him. This was posited by Dinesh D’Souza, one of several American journalists literally jailed by Obama for exposing him, which in and of itself is insane, but this story is not in the Garroway narrative. Perhaps what I heard before was untrue, or perhaps it was too true to be allowed to be known by people, at least according to Garroway. 

Particularly galling is the very tiny attention given to Frank Marshall Davis. As I understood it he tutored young Barack on Marxism from age nine to age 18. Davis was one of the leading card-carrying Communists of the post-McCarthy era, yet his mysterious appearance, friendship with the family, and affect on his protégé is not explored much. Contrasting with the attention given to porn chicks, reality wanna-bes and other nobodies of the modern scene, this is the kind of bias that us conservatives really despise. 

But we live with it.

Again, the rumors were that Obama was gay or bi-sexual, and that his activities with the “choom gang” included giving blowjobs on the beaches of Waikiki. This is spurious and unproven. Garroway makes no reference. I still hear people say it, and figure it’s probably not true, but then again who knows?

Next, the college years. Garroway has come across all kinds of documents and scraps of official record, but if Obama was admitted to Occidental or Columbia on a Muslim set-aside, it is not given any mention. The book does not come out and just say he got in on affirmative action but the subject gets a lot of mention, enough to imply he probably did, but apparently Obama made sure all the records were sealed. Of course George W. Bush or Donald Trump might have chosen to do something like that, and college administrators would have laughingly opened the books anyway, just as non-disclosure agreements have no legal standing when they protect Republicans (porn stars/Turmp) but only when they protect Democrats (Chappaquiddick/Ted Kennedy). On the other hand this kind of thing often works against the left, as when it was discovered W. actually had better grades at Yale than John Kerry. 

Another theory I have heard is that like, supposedly his “liberal academic” grandparents, Obama was a CIA asset in the 1980s. It was not unusual for the FBI and the CIA to use informants on campuses, with the Black Panthers, and other hot spots, during the Cold War. Does Garroway not mention any of this because he did not come across the conspiracy theory, or again because he thinks not writing about it means it not possible, or he wants the reader to think it not possible, which does not make it impossible? I also thought it had merit and that somehow Obama parlayed the contacts inherit in such a thing, including access to blackmail and spy craft, to lift himself up in politics, knowing there were classified secrets about him that could not be exposed due to this history? Again, yes, a conspiracy theory. Again, conspiracy theories are just smart people like me . . . thinking about things. 

Another story that is given zero credence in the book is some apparently solid evidence, in the form of a program produced by a literary agent around 1991, who represented Obama’s efforts to become a writer, and wrote in his biography that he was Muslim.  

Hey, nothing to see here. Move on.

Now we get to Bill Ayers. Garroway just drops the ball. He has spoken to janitors, friends of friends, classmates who barely knew Obama, anybody he could find, but when it comes into digging for dirt on Ayers and his association with the future President, again . . . move on, nothing to see here. Even Ayers background is papered over. Here is a guy who tried to blow up soldiers at the Pentagon and cops and even did blow up a police car apparently in the name of left-wing terror, which amazes me in that I thought this kind of thing illegal and earned the criminals who did it life sentences instead of academic tenure in the liberal hierarchy. That a guy who hates America that much then sees in Obama a mirror of himself, favors his ascension, and uses his ill-gotten position to elevate Obama, yet is not explored really, makes a lot of the great work the author has done seem meaningless. 

Not surprising, unfortunately. Just look at Woodward and Bernstein. The Washington Post went after Richard Nixon like Ahab chasing the Great White Whale, but 12 years earlier when the greatest political crime in history, John Kennedy stealing the election from Nixon, took place, they were incurious.

Which is why I freely choose not to be a Democrat. But move on.

Then there is the “Chicago way.” Apparently the line on Obama and his involvement in the most corrupt political system in America is treated the way Harry Truman’s knee-deep involvement in the infamous Pendergast machine of Kansas City was; somehow the single, sole idealist and honest broker in a sea of sharks. Yeah, right. For instance, as I always understood it, major crimes were committed in unsealing embarrassing divorce records of Obama’s 2004 Senate opponent, Jack Ryan. Rising Star clears Obama of any wrongdoing with the alacrity of Pontius Pilate washing his hands clean of Jesus’s crucifixion. But move on, will ya?

As for Jeremiah Wright, at least Garroway details all his B.S. in detail, but Obama and his wife just played “see no evil” each step of the way . . . as in the way Democrats are allowed to skate in ways Republicans are not. But hey, I could just try to be stupid and unknow all I know, if that makes you feel better. “Goddamn America”? I know nuzzing!!

The author has not made a major attempt to crawl under every rock of Obama’s Presidential campaigns or two terms in office, so any “failures” to get to the bottom of a million scandals between 2008 and frankly 2019 (Obama’s heavy hand is all over the “deep state” Trump currently battles) is understandable. He set out to find how he got there, not what he did when he was elected.

Despite the aforementioned acts of omission, Garroway accomplishes this task not by verifying every right-wing accusation, but rather by building up every liberal hope, dream and goal embodied by Obama; how it got him to the top; and then in showing how none of it resulted in any success of a positive nature, he tears down his life more surely than any hard-core conservative could.  After all, it was Caesar’s friend Brutus who stabbed him to death. A myth as huge as Obama’s could not hold up, and ultimately those who built the myth, by reluctantly, slowly yet surely admitting the myth resulted in dismal failure, are the only ones who can effectively wield the killing knife on the Senate steps.

Having ground my political axe to this point, allow me to concentrate on the contents of the book.

Saul Alinsky’s Chicago

David Garroway does something very telling right from the beginning. He goes into deep detail about Chicago union politics prior to Obama’s arrival in the mid-1980s. He provides stark background on Saul Alinsky, the “community organizer” who Obama emulated and liked so much he dedicated his book to him. Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, but of course nobody is supposed to take that seriously, which is of course precisely the strategy counted on by Lucifer. We are not supposed to make anything of the fact that Obama’s hero is a guy whose hero is the freaking devil, but I do.

But in describing how Chicago, a great American city, went to the dogs under Democrat leadership and union corruption, Garroway paves the way for how a guy like Obama can ascend. This world did not exist just a few years before, but by the time Obama rolled into town, it did exist.

As if Lucifer were paving the pay for him.

The unions, roiled by closure of a steel plant and environmental crises in close proximity to poor, mostly black neighborhoods, sowed the seeds for a new form of Communism, or Socialism with a black face, to paraphrase Alexander Dubcek. At first this came in the form of Harold Washington, the first African-American Mayor in the Windy City and a major groundbreaker in American politics. For those not from Chicago it is difficult to understand what a change this was from the days of Mayor Richard Daley, who unleashed the police on demonstrators at the 1968 Democrat National Convention not to mention provided the vote of every dead person in Cook County to JFK in 1960, as Lyndon Johnson did in Texas, conveniently providing the Democrats the Texas and Illinois electoral votes needed for the Presidency. 

But Republicans are supposed to just accept that lump of coal, as Nixon aide Murray aide Murray Chotiner did when he told the candidate, “They stole it from you fair and square, Dick.”

(As an aside, if somebody wants to tackle a truly cosmic book, how about a tome detailing all the “what if?” scenarios had Nixon actually won in 1960.)

The boy

Having set the Shakespearean Chicago stage that would launch Obama into the stratosphere, Garroway then takes us to Hawaii in the 1960s. As mentioned, apparently my understanding of Obama’s grandparents was incorrect. They were quite humble, but definitely left of center, especially in Kansas where they lived before the move to Hawaii, but in the islands they were more at home. There is not much detail on the friendship with Frank Marshall Davis with Stanley Dunham, but apparently it was just that, a friendship as opposed to a political pairing. 

Their daughter Madelyn was very bright and without racial invective, so the marriage to Barack Obama, Sr. was not as unusual as it might seem for 1960-61. Hawaii was a very different place from the rest of America in the 1960s, although throughout the book Garroway describes how the environment affected Obama. First, as a bi-racial kid, nobody thought of him as either “black” or even “American” particularly. Later Obama admitted the reason he was “lazy” was because of his Hawaiian heritage.

As for Madelyn, she held a number of relatively prestigious jobs throughout her life, which I found a bit odd. Her education, while impressive enough, was scattershot with marriages divorces, geographical moves and illnesses making the completion of elite degrees difficult, yet she seemed to be guided along in such a way that she was allowed to make a decent living. My conspiratorial instincts were brought to bear, leading me to conjecture whether there was some foreign entity that had chosen her son as an asset and therefore kept things on as even a keel as possible so the plan could be brought to bear. But that is just me.

It is impossible, and Rising Star definitely spotlights this, to underestimate the psychological role of Obama’s father on the son. There was little way to describe him other than to call the guy a bum. He was a well-educated Kenyan who came to Harvard to pursue a graduate degree; his goal was to return to his native country and help transition them into some kind of independent government, as they became following the departure of the British Empire in 1963. He seems to have been a Marxist of the Patrice Lumumba school. He basically drifted into America, met and impregnated Obama’s mother, married her, then abandoned the family. This does not play to the idea of a Communist “anchor baby” conspiracy, unless one considers him little more than a sperm donor for some kind of interracial political figure, assuming the Marxists saw blacks and interracial people as being favored political entities some 30-40 years down the road, which is hard to fathom.

The father was handsome and charismatic, but a raging alcoholic and inveterate womanizer. The standards of sexual conduct available to a guy like him in Kenya were not the same in America, but he acted liked they were. The similarity with his son comes in description of him as utterly arrogant and loud in his constant utterings and endless speechifying, in which he was convinced that he and he alone was always the smartest guy in the room, always right, anybody disagreeing with him automatically wrong. He drifted back to Kenya but any chance he had of becoming a major statesman in his own country was destroyed by his alcoholism. He fathered too many kids with too many women for me too keep count, and various interspersings throughout the book of some aunt or cousin or relative coming into town to see Barack throughout his life left me utterly unable to tell exactly who anybody was really. He met his son once in the 1970s but died a tragic, broken figure. Obama would invent lie after lie to prop up his image; an African prince, a political big shot, this, that. In truth Obama was a child abandoned not just by his dad but his mom, who just moved about in selfish, willy-nilly pursuit of her own needs, sometimes in the form of different academic pursuits, leaving the kid to his white grandparents. 

When Barack was still very young, around five, his mom married Lolo Soetoro. Garroway does not conjecture much if at all on the choices Madelyn made when it came to men. She definitely seemed to prefer those of color from the Third World. Indonesia was understandably difficult for her and Barack. The most basic needs taken for granted in America were often not available there, and in addition at that time the nation was in a violent proxy war with Communists attempting to wrest control. 

Eventually the marriage to Soetoro failed and Madelyn moved with her son back to Honolulu, but she mostly moved around on him while her folks took care of Barack. This is where Frank Marshall Davis enters the picture. Like other men of influence in his life, Davis is portrayed as a major womanizer, apparently with white women, the kind of thing frowned upon in most of America but considered casual in Hawaii. There is utterly and absolutely zero evidence of Barack Obama or his family suffering any sort of racial bigotry despite these pairings and associations, and friends interviewed by the author speak of a happy, well-adjusted kid, pretty smart, who liked to play basketball, but was not viewed by anybody really as “black” or “African-American” and in some cases not even as American period. Barack did not much explain his mom, his dad, his grandparents, Lolo, the Indonesian period, or much of anything, so some just assumed he was from another country. In Hawaii this was pretty common and not an issue. 

Garroway shies away from getting deep in any way on the influence of Davis. During this period, if the U.S. were to go to war with the Soviets or the Chinese, Marshall’s name was at the top of a list of un-American activists who would be rounded up as potential enemies of the state, yet whether Barack’s grandparents knew this or cared is not explored. Exactly what Davis “taught” Barack is also left unexplored. Conservatives have theorized that he spent hours over many years tutoring the kid on Marx, Stalin and the glories of Communism. If so, Obama certainly never admitted it and nobody can verify it, but it sure is a strange biographical twist in the life of a future President of the United States.

For some strange reason Communism is not viewed quite as malevolently as Nazism, even though the Communists murdered some 10 times more human beings, and just as many Jews, as the Nazis. If for instance Madelyn had married a former Nazi and lived in Argentina in a Nazi town, which existed at the time, and young Barack had been tutored for years on Nazism instead of Communism, this would have been unacceptable not just to the right but to the left. Instead the possibility he was tutored in Communism instead is unacceptable only to the right, perfectly accepted by the left.  

Obama’s years at the Punahou School are examined closely. There is some mention of Stanley taking a job with decent pay at a furniture store and thus explaining how his private schooling was paid for, but if this sounds a bit suspicious, Garroway is not one of the suspicious ones. 

Obama appears to be a normal high school kid, albeit again the Honolulu environment making the entire experience much different from the rest of the country. This is now the mid- to late 1970s, and the times they have already a-changed. It is an era of long hair, post-hippy clothing, rampant drug use, slacker youth and passionlessness. The great cause of Vietnam has passed these kids by. Skin color, by then unimportant in many parts, if not the entire nation, is not a factor in social standing or dating habits. Obama dated a few girls, but was no Romeo. He had various friends, most of whom smoked a fair amount of dope. He played basketball, with a little bit of skill but not enough to make him stand out. His grades are apparently decent but nothing super. 

He hung out with the “choom gang,” who spent time at the beach, scored drugs, and slacked around in a slacker environment. Any strange sexual hi-jinx they may have been involved in, or crimes they may have committed beyond scoring some weed or maybe a little coke, is not much delved into. Most of the former classmates interviewed by the author recall Obama with basic fondness but not super warmth. Most were stunned at what he became; his contemporaries did not predict this in any form. The theme of Obama as “not being black” and “not really American” is repeated, but again is a product of the hyped multi-culturalism of the place then as now. 

Obama then moves on to Occidental College in Los Angeles. It was a private school but in those days academic costs were not as exorbitant. It is not explained how he got in or who paid for him. It was mostly white but reflected the diversity of L.A. It was a fine enough school but not the Ivy League, Stanford or even USC and UCLA. His decision to attend was tenuous, based either on a girl he met from L.A. he supposedly figured he would see if he went there, or the fact he could play in their hoops program, which was pretty low-key. Davis sent him off telling him he was there to get “trained,” although the exact meaning of this is nebulous. He was apparently supposed to keep his eyes open and learn as much from his environment as from his professors.

After one year Obama moved on to Columbia University. This is a mysterious event. While it is undoubtedly easier to transfer to a prestigious Ivy League school from another college than to be accepted straight out of high school, it is very hard to get in. Affirmative action was rampant at that time, and it would seem logical that Obama gained entrance in the form of some sort of set-aside, which could be as an “African,” a “black,” or even a “Muslim” student, all of which would gain favor over “white Caucasian.”

That said, the book if accurate describes a diligent student, far evolved from his “choom gang” days in Honolulu or his hoops-shooting time in Los Angeles. It is also instructive in that Obama, as mentioned in books he wrote himself, drifted into “Marxist” circles. There certainly was a time in which any Presidential candidate known to have associated with Marxists would automatically no longer be a candidate for the White House, that determination made by voters of both parties. By 2008 that was a determination only made by one party. In fact, being a Marxist seems by then to have become a plus in the eyes of the left. Obama was serious and political. Again, he seems to have been able to live in relative comfort in New York City, apparently without gainful employment. If he was on a scholarship of some kind this might explain it, but since Obama never opened his college records and avoided the issue, it is unknown.

He made good enough grades at Columbia and impressed people. He definitely improved intellectually from his Hawaii roots, and mused at different times that the island setting set him back, in that it was a “lazy” atmosphere, whereby New York was a place of action and competition that roused him to be at his best. 

From Columbia he actually took a job, kind of on Wall Street, working for a company tangentially associated with financial analysis. Obama was not comfortable and later described it as being like working in “enemy territory,” that being capitalism. During his Columbia and New York working years he had several relationships with women. There have been rumors of Obama being gay or bi-sexual, but Rising Star finds no evidence either in the “choom gang” activities or in a study of his dating habits.

Women found him attractive but distant. He went for white and Asian girls. Whether there was a political tilt to this is not really explored; that is, the idea that white girls of this and subsequent eras date men of color, as Obama’s mother might have done, out of a sense of sexual reparation. But at least two of the girls Garroway tracked down expressed a certain amount of distaste for Barack. Reading between the lines, they both seem to have held something back, but what they were willing to talk about was Barack’s emotional distance; his lack of commitment to the relationship; and most telling they described him as a sell-out who expressed revolutionary left-wing ideas in the 1980s, but in all his subsequent jobs, from Chicago “community organizer” to Illinois state senator to the U.S. Senate and the White House, never fulfilled his promise, mostly because he lacked the leadership, gumption and spine to rise above himself. There seems a certain amount of resentment from at least two women interviewed, which could be attributed to their being “jilted” in one way or another, eventually tossed aside for the black Michelle, but they appear to be giving honest accounts.

A few of Barack’s friends from his youth also expressed complete disbelief in Obama’s 2008 statement that he was a Christian. This is based mostly on his apparently atheistic views as a young man and not on the later abhorrent membership in a church run by a radical pastor who told his flock America was “damned to hell” because “it’s in the Bible.” 

But Obama’s life changed forever when he read a want-ad describing need for a “community organizer” in Chicago. Garroway had as mentioned opened his book with descriptions of Saul Alinsky and how the union scene of Chicago at this time was for all practical purposes American Communism. This makes it the perfect place for a guy like Obama to thrive and probably what he found attractive about it.

While driving from New York to Chicago, Obama stopped at a place on the side of the road where a crabby old black dude looked him up one side and down the other, somewhat amazed at this example of the “modern black man” that America was now producing as opposed to the old school negroes of his generation. He seemed to see right through the Obama façade, advising that he avoid politics and instead use his smile and good speaking ability to land a job on television. 

In Chicago, Obama accomplished zero. The book goes on for page after page after page describing Obama meeting people, introducing himself, setting up more meetings, then more meetings, ingratiating himself, but helping nobody. Union issues, the environmental concerns surrounding a large company generating pollution into the neighborhood; he gives lip service and takes meeting but there is no legislation, no action taken. Mostly he engages in low-level race-baiting, threatening in the Jesse Jackson manner to rally blacks against some establishment entity or other and accuse them of racism unless they adhere to some kind of edict or another, but he lacks the forthrightness to pull this off, as Al Sharpton and Jackson were doing at the time.

Then he meets Michelle, a piece of work in her own right. Michelle grew up knowing Jackson’s family. She was obviously bright and able to get a law degree from an Ivy League school, although as with Barack there is the whiff of favoritism for blacks, which fair or unfair hangs over them because of affirmative action. 

They meet, there is attraction, but according to the book Barack was very calculating. Both saw marriage as a form of political partnership, which is not surprising. There is some psycho-analysis in an attempt to get into Barack’s mind and determine whether he felt a twinge of guilt over throwing his white and Asian girlfriends overboard in favor of the black woman he intuitively knew he needed in order to be politically “down with the struggle.”

The problem, of course, is that neither he nor Michelle had ever faced any hardship of any kind, racially motivated or otherwise. They were cruising. Obama then goes to Harvard Law School, where he gets in seemingly without breaking a sweat. Now the book either was lying or Obama was an incredible law student. It describes a literal wunderkind of legal theories who dominates discussion after discussion and was seen as a legendary figure on campus. It reminds one of the film Patch Adams, in which Robin Williams plays a medical student who seems to just breeze through his studies while cracking jokes, has the time to woo a girl, run a volunteer clinic, and not ever study. But Garroway has established so far the ability to write with honest criticism of his subject, so it stands to reason Obama was as advertised.

Being black and so gifted academically and rhetorically it is here, surrounded by very political, very influential and elite people, most of whom are Democrats, that people begin to look on this guy as the future President of the United States. There have been reports that Obama was involved with some very radical left-wing professors at Harvard, but Garroway does not delve into that so maybe it was exaggerated.

He graduates, he passes the bar, all with absolute ease, and then it is back to Chicago. He marries Michelle and starts a family, and returns to his job as a “community organizer.” This is apparently supposed to be a huge plus in his column. He could have gone anywhere and made oodles of dough, but instead decides to help steel workers and minorities being gamed by the system. However, again the book continues, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, showing Obama pontificating, showing off, demonstrating his smarts, taking meetings, telling people what to do, but all the while the city of Chicago, slides into a mediocre cesspool of crime and urban blight. Obama helped nobody. He accomplished nothing.

This is not just this reviewer’s opinion. Garroway interviewed practically everybody who knew him. All had a similar story: they met a bright guy, pinned big hopes on him, and were ultimately disappointed. Obama was always about Obama.

Compare this with Donald Trump, building skylines, providing thousands of jobs, resurrecting old neighborhoods and buildings. He might have always been about Trump, but a lot of people were happy to ride his coattails.

Michelle’s Princeton thesis is not expounded on upon much; she complains about the hardships of being black at Princeton. As with Obama at Columbia and Harvard her complaints have no merit. There are no tales of prejudiced classmates or bigoted professors or anything. It is all in her fertile imagination.

Next comes Obama’s political career, which can be described in a sentence or two. He accomplished nothing. He was elected in a very controversial election in which a favored black state senator was in legal difficulty, and Obama back doored his way in to what was not really an open seat. This teed off a number of old school black pols who never liked him in all his Chicago years. Obama’s smug attitude rubbed many others the wrong way. He was lazy and did not work at much of anything, and disappointed those who wanted to use his talents to achieve something for the people. About the only thing anybody can point to was his enthusiastic support of a bill making it easier for women to abort their babies.

The one area in which Obama must be praised, according to Garroway, was in the area of ethics. Chicago was and still is as corrupt as any city in America. Pols are on the take, everybody and everything is for sale. Everybody drinks and bangs hookers. It is the Chicago way. But Obama was as clean as a whistle. He lived in a hotel with other politicians in Springfield but did not carouse or cheat on his wife. He played in a friendly poker game but was assiduous in paying his debts on time. He did not take bribes or kickbacks. What this says is interesting. In Chicago that is how people effectively get things done. His honesty did not pay off in political success, the way the crusading Teddy Roosevelt scored big in exposing Tammany Hall New York. 

Legacy: the new racial politics

He was in the U.S. Senate for four years, and was seen as lazy, unaccomplished, and only about himself getting elected to the White House. Garroway’s book was not based on getting to the bottom of his Presidency. The author’s last chapter summed it up: “The President Did Not Attend, As he Was Golfing.” Most of Obama’s friends from his earlier life expressed disappointment in his Presidency. Most were liberals who loved the idea of Obama, but the reality sucked. 

Suffice it to say a man who said Barack was not born in America, and who stood as the polar opposite of all Obama was, is what America decided they wanted after eight years of Obama. He was repudiated.

In analyzing the entire Obama story, one is struck by a strange historical truth. Call it what you will.

 “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.”

“What goes around comes around.”

“History does not repeat, it rhymes.”

But from the conservative point of view, one looks at our convoluted history and sees many troubling things. Blacks were bullied, Mexicans faced bigotry, the Chinese were hated. It was an uphill struggle for minorities. Of course, those days are over. To paraphrase the song, “It looks like they made it.”

But the history of minorities offers a parallel perspective. Jackie Robinson was said to be the “right man” to break baseball’s “color barrier.” He was successful and many blazed in his path. A majority of National League Most Valuable Players were black in the 20 years after he broke into baseball, but in Ball Four Jim Bouton pointed out that while some half of the leading hitters in baseball in 1969 were black, only about one-third in all of the Major Leagues was black. Bouton concluded that blacks had to be better than their white counterparts in order to play.

Another black trailblazer, Dr. Martin Luther King, was another who it can be said was the “right man” for the job he faced. But it does not look like Obama was the right man to be the first black President. His eight years leads to the conclusion that the first black President should not have been a left-winger, and practically a Communist whose actions in kow-towing to Iran bordered on outright treason. He should have been a moderate and perhaps best a Republican like Colin Powell or a conservative like Allen West. Obama, the man who accomplished nothing, only accomplished the Presidency. That is something, but it is ultimately empty.

The odd legacy of Obama is that today, the less prejudice actually exists, the more people say it exists. Perhaps Freud could figure it out. But more than that, we go back to Jackie Robinson and the plight of blacks. During Watergate, if the Republicans thought they lived in some kind of country club bubble in which their discretions would be overlooked by a patronizing, friendly white press and political corps, they were sadly mistaken. The legacy of Watergate is that the Republicans and conservatives were put on the defensive and found themselves like the black baseball players of the 1950s and 1960s who had to be better than their counterparts. More honest, more able to handle critical examination. The rules would be skewed against them and in favor of the liberals.

Thos was not fun and is the subject of much complaint, but ultimately it has helped the GOP. They are the more honest and forthright of the parties, the superior political entity, because like the black players they have to be in order to survive.

Now, it is not instructive to try and say being a white Christian conservative in 2019 is as harsh an environment as being a black in the South in 1951, but in many ways the modern white, considered a dinosaur by elite liberals who scoff at the idea that Jesus Christ is real and the Bible actually judges us, might ask a black of 1951 whether they wish to change places with Brett Kavanaugh at the height of his roasting, or Donald Trump fighting like Patton every day to survive the onslaughts. The old sharecropper might just pass on the trade.

Is there good news? My prediction is that there is. Obama’s racial politics will pass into the dustbin of history eventually. Trump will overcome and he is a one-off. His Republican successors will benefit from the trail he blazed. As for the next black President, my guess is Obama ruined it for whoever that may have been the rest of my lifetime.

Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the upcoming Best Sports Writing Ever. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a PhD who taught at USC. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, and He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at or on Twitter @STWRITES.