Obama’s book to relive his charmed White House years

Former US President Barack Obama.

Photo credit: Scott Olson | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Obama was known as the “king of cool”, he reportedly always thought critically about everything.
  • Hillary and Bill Clinton combined forces against him and he bulldozed past them, leaving behind a stunned power couple who were used to winning political contests.

 “It was early October 2007 in Iowa, the drying stalks still stood in cornfields grown more precious in the age of ethanol, and far away, in the moneyed precincts of both coasts, Barack Obama’s top donors were anxious. Despite having raised heaps of cash, he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in the national polls with only three months to go before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus. For the worriers, it was getting late. But for Iowa voters, it was early enough that many barely knew what to make of this biracial rookie senator and still muffed his exotic name”.

These words by American journalist Alec MacGillis describe a charmed time when Barack Obama was contesting the Democratic party’s presidential ticket. It was an improbable quest; a doubtful promise. He was battling it out with Hillary Clinton; and the Clinton juggernaut looked poised to run him out of town.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama not only beat Hillary for the party’s presidential ticket but also beat John McCain (the Republican party’s standard bearer) for the presidency of the United States. Obama rode a stunning populist wave into the White House, leaving political pundits and television commentators scratching their heads.

It was a magical time. A black man had taken the reins of the American seat of power; becoming arguably the most powerful man on earth. Afterwards, he beat Mitt Romney to serve a second term as president. Then he rode noiselessly into the sunset after handing over the reins of power to the rumbustious Donald Trump.

We are set to relive all this when Barack Obama releases his memoirs on November 17, 2020. According to news reports, Obama’s 768-page memoir, entitled A Promised Land, will be simultaneously issued in 25 languages.

Magical fairy-tale

The title, A Promised Land, is not surprising because it is as idyllic as the man who came storming out of nowhere and held much of America spellbound for a time. We expect idealism, even a tinge of romanticism in the upcoming book. It will certainly evoke images of a magical fairy-tale.

Obama is an incurable romanticist, even as a politician, he always sought to fire up the imagination and transport his listeners to worlds unknown; he picked words that promised to light up everything with surprising radiance, like smelling grass for the first time. He seemed fresh and young and different. He always made people long for a promised land; somewhere in the realm of the beautiful.

The biblical Promised Land is one of milk and honey. The ancient Greeks called this place Arcadia; a utopian place celebrated as unspoiled and where everything was in perfect harmony.

The great poet, John Keats, described such a place when he once wrote, “Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu/ And, happy melodist, unwearied/ For ever piping songs for ever new/ More happy love! more happy, happy love!”

For much of the world, and especially in Kenya, a black man (with a Kenyan father) at the helm of the world’s super power was a time of burgeoning cheer and optimism — a moment that blossomed into eight years of brilliance — a kind of golden age.

With the book coming after almost four years of having Donald Trump in the White House, the contrasts couldn’t be clearer.

Swaggering showboat

Obama was known as the “king of cool”, he reportedly always thought critically about everything. This is clear even when he talks; he hesitates as he weighs his words. However, President Trump, the brash billionaire from New York City, seemingly shoots from the hip.

Trump’s critics aver that he is a fiery, swaggering showboat and that his life (and the country he now leads) is an evocative swirl if not one big whirlwind of chaos. His supporters, however, will go to hell and back with him; they probably find his combative style irredeemably cool.

Critics, on the other hand, have bashed Barack Obama for this idealism and he will probably be bashed for writing A Promised Land; that he paints the world as always sunshine when reality is crueler.

John McCain lambasted Obama as a “celebrity” with nothing to offer but empty populism. Others have said that Obama offered nothing but words because he can talk a pen off a wall. His oratory skills, in the tradition of black American preachers, are unequalled.

Whatever the case, whether we agree with him or not, it will be interesting to read what Obama has to say about his rise to become the 44th President of the United States – from his perspective.

How did he beat John McCain, a revered war-hero and a battle-hardened politician when Obama was just a first-time senator? How did he stop the revered Clinton juggernaut?

Hillary and Bill Clinton combined forces against him and he bulldozed past them, leaving behind a stunned power couple who were used to winning political contests. How was life in the White House, under the constant watch of hawk-eyed Secret Service officers? We hope that Obama will answer these questions and shed more light on his enchanted life in his upcoming memoir.

johnmwazemba@gmail.com