Bob Neer | Barack Obama for Beginners: An Essential Guide (For Beginners)

bofb-header.jpgBarack Obama for Beginners presents a great deal of useful information concisely, and the summary of Obama’s political career is particularly good. Occasionally, however, I wondered if it might better be titled Barack Obama for Children because of the author’s language and choice of material to include.

 

 

 

80 pages. Danbury, CT: For Beginners, 2008. $7.95 (paperback)

 

With the Democratic and Republican National Conventions just around the corner and the presidential elections coming up in November, the American media is saturated with coverage of the presumed nominees Barack Obama and John McCain. Unfortunately, quality control seems to be a passé notion in much of the media these days, making it quite a task for the average voter to separate real and useful information from innuendo, opinion, and general nonsense.

And then there are the outright lies, which are sometimes propagated more efficiently than the truth. Case in point: the number one book on both the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list (as of August 17) and Amazon’s political non-fiction sales list is The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality by Jerome Corsi. If the name Corsi sounds familiar, it’s because he was co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, which played a key role in the successful smear campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.

The best response to falsehoods and disinformation are to challenge and discredit them, and simultaneously to get the real information out there. One contribution to this effort is Bob Neer’s Barack Obama for Beginners: An Essential Guide, a slim 80-page paperback with illustrations by Joe Lee.

The focus of Barack Obama for Beginners is the candidate’s biography rather than his political positions or accomplishments. This is consonant with Obama’s presidential campaign strategy, which has been long on image and inspiration and short on specifics (note that this book was produced independently of the Obama campaign). It’s also a wise choice because political stances change and a book detailing them is fated to early obsolescence.

Unfortunately, it also limits this volume’s appeal, except for Obama fans that just can’t get enough of his life story. The lack of serious political discussion is a surprising departure from the usual approach of the For Beginners volumes, which have previously managed to present substantial topics such as existentialism with admirable clarity within a comic book format. Another departure is the format of the book itself: although described on the cover as a "documentary comic book," Barack Obama for Beginners is really a book of prose with occasional illustrations.

Barack Obama for Beginners presents a great deal of useful information concisely, and the summary of Obama’s political career is particularly good. Occasionally, however, I wondered if it might better be titled Barack Obama for Children because of the author’s language and choice of material to include. Why tell us that Obama’s father "chafed at traditional village employment, which included tending goats," that "baby crocodiles inhabited the garden" of his stepfather’s home in Jakarta, or that the motto of the hospital where Obama was born is "Kulia I Ka Nu’u: ‘Strive for the Highest’"?

And why hint that Obama’s parents were bigamously married? If this issue is important enough to address in so brief a volume, nothing is gained by dancing around the topic with phrases such as "he told her he was divorced." This issue may have been broached as a pre-emptive strike in case some anti-Obama spokesperson or advertisement brings it up: many incidents related in Barack Obama for Beginners seem to have been included for exactly that reason. Of course being more explicit would also have undercut the effect of the later statement that their interracial marriage in 1961 would have been illegal in 22 states, because bigamy was and is illegal in every state.

Neer, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and editor of the political blog BlueMassGroup.com, wrote Barack Obama for Beginners based on secondary sources. It concludes with brief suggested reading list and list of websites, but no footnotes or endnotes are included within the book. However, detailed source notes are available on the website http://barackobamaforbeginners.com/, which also contains more information about the Obama campaign. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

 

 

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