The United States is smothered in a “veil of impossibility,” and “only one person will snatch that veil of impossibility off their heads.” That was a fired-up Michelle Obama back in 2008, but in her new book Becoming, the former First Lady shows it was possible to advance long before her husband came on the scene.
Her father Fraser Robinson worked for the city of Chicago in a water filtration plant. He provided the family with a middle-class lifestyle and drove a Buick Electra 225, a luxury car known as a “deuce and a quarter.” Michelle attended Whitney Young high school where “it was safe to be smart,” and “you never hid your intelligence for fear of someone saying you talked like a white girl.” Indeed, the author’s racial consciousness is on full display here.
Families moved to the suburbs in search of “whiteness.” Washington was “just a faraway city filled with a lot of white buildings and white men.” The capitol “confused me with its decorous traditions and sober self-regard, its whiteness and maleness.” And “people of color” jostle on every hand.
Becoming will be of interest to the “presidential historians” who hold forth on PBS. General readers get a sense of the First Family and their experience with in vitro fertilization. The photo section features one picture of Michelle in a swimsuit and her book is like a bikini. What it reveals is interesting but what it conceals is crucial.
In 2008, Michelle recalls, Christopher Hitchens said of her senior college thesis, that “to describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be ‘read’ at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.” Michelle was fond of black radicals like Stokely Carmichael but she wasn’t much of a writer.
On page 224 of Becoming readers meet David Axelrod, who would “lead the messaging and media for Barack.” Michelle fails to recall that the New York Times dubbed Axelrod “Obama’s narrator” and his fingerprints are all over this account. Axelrod’s 2015 Believer betrays the same elephantine style, and a lot more.
Axelrod left journalism because he liked to tell stories and he describes Obama, who had no record of publication, as a fantastic writer with the skill of an historical novelist. As Becoming explains, the future president “sold his idea for a nonfiction book about race and identity.” No word that in the 2017 Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, official biographer David Garrow proclaimed Dreams from My Father to be “historical fiction” and the author a “composite character.”
Michelle writes that “he’d spent the first 20 years of his life going by the nickname Barry,” but “somewhere along the way, though, he’d stepped into the fullness of his birth name – Barack Hussein Obama.” Michelle does not note that, in all his writings from 1958 to 1964, the Kenyan Barack Obama mentions nothing about an American wife and Hawaiian-born son.
Dreams from My Father devoted more than 2,000 words to the beloved “Frank,” whom the author identified as Frank Marshall Davis. Becoming does not mention Frank, so Michelle missed an opportunity to explain the devotion of a black American to all-white Communist dictatorships.
Becoming portrays the future president as an “exceptional” and “gifted” student who “worshipped books.” At Columbia he “consumed volumes of political philosophy as if it were beach reading” and “spent all his spare change on books.” Michelle managed to marry an “out-of-the-box thinker” who “steered himself with a certainty I found astounding.”
On page 148 readers meet Valerie Jarrett, deputy chief of staff to Chicago mayor Harold Washington. Valerie spent her childhood in her Iran, “where her father had been a doctor at a hospital.” Michelle does not divulge that Valerie’s father, James Bowman, and her father-in-law Vernon Jarrett were both Communists and associates of Frank Marshall Davis.
“Valerie was the right person to address any concerns,” Michelle writes. “Valerie was like a fast-moving comet and clearly going places.” Jarrett went on to great power in the White House, a de-facto First Lady on policy issues. Michelle styles herself a “first mom” but she does pronounce on her husband’s record and controversies.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright “was known as a sensational preacher with a passion for social justice.” In his fiery sermons, Wright showed “callous and inappropriate fits of rage and resentment of white America.” No word about Wright’s pal Louis Farrakhan or the photo of her husband with the Nation of Islam boss. And the dutiful Michelle never links Islam with terrorism. As she explains, Nigerian girls were “kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram.”
Michelle’s husband was “the right person for this moment in history.” Republicans fought “every effort to stanch the economic crisis, refusing to support measures that would cut taxes and save or create millions of jobs.” Hillary Clinton was the designated successor and Michelle “will always wonder about what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president.”
Readers might wonder what Michelle is “becoming” now. The author claims, “I have no intention of running for office, ever,” but even if she likes that plan she might not keep it.
At this moment in history, Michelle may tear away that veil of impossibility and enter the race for 2020.