Lloyd Billingsley, Intel on his forthcoming opus.
On Tuesday November 17, two weeks after election day, Penguin Random House will release A Promised Land, the first of two volumes by former president Barack Obama. As he explains, the 768-page book will provide “an honest accounting” of his presidential campaign and thoughts on “how we can heal the divisions in our country going forward and make our democracy work for everybody.” And so on, as if the author was some kind of president for life.
Wary readers might take a cue from C.S. Lewis, who when a new book came out preferred to read an old one. In the case of POTUS 44, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, that means Dreams from My Father, published in 1995 during the Clinton Era.
“Dreams from My Father was not a memoir or an autobiography,” wrote David Garrow in the 2017 Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. “It was instead, in multitudinous ways, without any question a work of historical fiction. It featured many true-to-life figures and a bevy of accurately described events that indeed had occurred, but it employed the techniques and literary license of a novel, and its most important composite character was the narrator himself.” That calls for review of the way Dreams deals with “the divisions in our country,” race relations, political ideology and such.
Readers encounter “Frank,” a happy-drunk poet wise in the ways of women.“They’ll drive you to drink, boy,” Frank tells young Barry, but there’s a lot more to this poet. As the Dreams author publicly acknowledged on several occasions, Frank was Frank Marshall Davis, an African American Stalinist and longtime supporter of all-white Soviet Communist dictatorships. Dreams doesn’t get into that, but Franks duly breaks out some Communist Party themes.
“Black people have a reason to hate,” Frank tells Barry. “That’s just how it is. For your sake, I wish it were otherwise. But it’s not. So you might as well get used to it.” When Barry goes to college, Frank warns, “they’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit.”
Barry gathers books by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, but “only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different.” Barry also encounters Malik, formerly with the Nation of Islam.
“You won’t see me moving to no African jungle anytime soon,” Malik says. “Or some goddamned desert somewhere, sitting on a carpet with a bunch of Arabs. And you won’t see me stop eating no ribs. And pussy too. Don’t Malcolm talk about no pussy?”
In Los Angeles, Barry meets Reggie, fresh off an encounter with the LAPD. “They had no reason to stop me. No reason ‘cept I was walking in a white neighborhood,” Reggie says. “One of ‘em pulled out his piece. I didn’t let ‘em scare me, though. That’s what gets these storm troopers off, seeing fear in a black man.”
These passages recall the “Black Acting School” of Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, where the instructors are all white. So this dialogue could be the work of “Obama’s narrator” David Axelrod, who touts his storytelling skills in his 2015 Believer.
In Dreams from My Father, Barry hooks up with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a “dynamic young pastor. His message seemed to appeal to young people like me.” As Rev. Wright explains, “Life’s not safe for a black man in this country, Barack. Never has been. Probably never will be.” This is the doctrine Black Lives Matter is now preaching, and which Barry first learned from Frank, profiled at length in Paul Kengor’s The Communist.
Frank disappeared from the audio version of Dreams and never appeared in The Audacity of Hope or any other official materials, including Axelrod’s Believer. Readers might check to see if Frank shows up in A Promised Land, and how it handles Garrow’s Rising Star. The official biography is missing from Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Ben Rhodes’ The World as it Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, both released in 2018.
In 2012, the president told Russia’s Dimitry Medvedev he would have “more flexibility” after the election. See how A Promised Land handles that exchange, and what the account says about the November 5, 2009, Fort Hood “workplace violence” massacre and the $1.7 billion in cash shipped to Iran. See if the Promised Land author still believes if the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
When the composite character became president, the United States was already a top-heavy welfare state. He transformed it into an arrangement where the outgoing president picks his successor and deploys the FBI and DOJ against her opponent. See how A Promised Land handles Midyear Exam and Crossfire Hurricane. If readers are in the mood for something more exciting, they might try Frank’s Sex Rebel: Black, a pornographic novel that is really autobiography.
“Davis’ Communist background plus his kinky exploits made him politically radioactive,” David Garrow explained in Rising Star. So Barry needed the “historical fiction” of Dreams from My Father, the best foreword to A Promised Land, due two weeks after the election.
The author and his handlers want Joe Biden to win. As President Trump says, we’ll have to see what happens.