Commentary Magazine


What Are Facts After All?

There is new-found focus on Barack Obama’s gaffes and whether he is indeed a knowledgeable person. But maybe the critics are missing something. Like any good liberal taught the basics of postmodernism or postructuralism in the halls of the Ivy League, Obama need not be too concerned with facts. Because facts, after all, are not really fixed, knowable things and there are “higher truths” to be learned. Lest you think I exaggerate, the proof comes from his own books.

In a telling New York Times article (no doubt intended to be laudatory) we learn a lot about Obama’s relationship with facts. We find out that his autobiographical works are not exactly fact-based works:

“The book is so literary,” said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. “It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.”

Perhaps what garners praise as “clever tricks” in literature doesn’t work as well with international relations and history where people check your facts and hold you accountable. The Times story continues:

In the introduction, Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order. He was writing at a time well before a recent series of publishing scandals involving fabrication in memoirs. “He was trying to be careful of people’s feelings,” said Deborah Baker, the editor on the first paperback edition of the book. “The fact is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn’t make up.”

The piece ends with words of praise from a publisher: “Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it’s a stunning fact.”

So it may be that taking liberties with facts is second nature to Obama. Indeed, he helped get him where he is today. And as any parent knows, when the habit of embellishing and avoiding unpleasant or prosaic facts gets embedded in your mode of thinking and acting, it is a hard habit to break. And it is a disturbing mindset for a potential president.