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The Story of Obama, Written by Obama

myiq2xu's picture

Ah, the NYT is the epitome of accuracy in journalism:

Then in March 2004, Mr. Obama's political and literary fortunes abruptly shifted. His victory in a tightly contested United States Senate primary in Illinois made him an overnight Democratic Party sensation.

"Tightly contested?" From Wikipedia:

In early media polls leading up to the March 16, 2004 primary election, [Blair] Hull enjoyed a substantial lead and widespread name recognition resulting from a well-financed advertisement effort. He contributed over $28 million of his personal wealth for the campaign.

When allegations that Hull had abused his ex-wife were made by the media, Hull's poll numbers dropped and he failed to win the nomination. Illinois State Senator Barack Obama later became the nominee.

Obama finished 29 points ahead of the second place primary finisher. Then he cake-walked in the general against Alan Keyes after Jack Ryan withdrew from the race following disclosure of divorce records containing politically embarrassing charges by his ex-wife.

The Times puff piece ads some little tidbits about the writing of "Dreams From My Father":

Mr. Obama was given an office to write in at the University of Chicago through a surprising connection. Douglas G. Baird, a professor who was head of the law school's appointments committee, had learned of Mr. Obama from Michael W. McConnell, a conservative constitutional scholar then at Chicago whom President Bush would later make a federal judge.

Professor McConnell encountered Mr. Obama during the editing of an article he wrote for The Harvard Law Review, Professor Baird said recently. "He sent a note saying this person is really brilliant, we should have him on our radar screen," Professor Baird said. Professor Baird called Mr. Obama at Harvard and asked if he was interested in teaching.

"I don't remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect that, ‘Well, in fact, I want to write this book.' What he really wanted was the Virginia Woolf equivalent of a clean, well lighted room." So Professor Baird got him one, a small office near the law library, along with a law school fellowship that Professor Baird hoped might later lead to his full-time teaching.

This was prior to Obama being elected to the Illinois Senate. A conservative Republican helped hook Obama up with a cushy job at the University of Chicago Law School with an office to do his writing in. Not bad for a guy just a couple years out of law school and no real accomplishments as an attorney. But the book didn't do so well:

The book came out in the summer of 1995, shortly before Mr. Obama announced that he was running for the Illinois State Senate. At 57th Street Books, in Mr. Obama's neighborhood in Chicago, a few dozen people turned out for a reading. There were respectful reviews in newspapers including The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Times Books sold 8,000 to 9,000 copies.

"I joke that 290 million Americans did not buy the book," he said.

Kodansha Globe, a now-defunct branch of a Japanese company, bought the paperback rights for $5,000 to $7,500 and printed about 6,000 copies in 1996, said Philip Turner, Kondansha's editor in chief at the time.

The book was reissued after Obama was the Democratic Senate nominee from Illinois, and did better than before:

Crown moved up the publication date, Barnes & Noble increased its order to 20,000 copies, and the book hit the top 50 on Amazon before it was even reissued. Bidding on eBay for a first edition copy hit $255. By December, Mr. Obama was the senator-elect and his book had been on the best-seller list for 14 weeks.

Wow! Top 50 before it was even reissued! But that's not all:

Two weeks before Mr. Obama's swearing in, Crown announced that it had signed a contract with him for three more books. The first would offer "a window into the political and spiritual convictions that propelled Obama's recent U.S. Senate victory." The second will be a children's book about his life, and the third is yet to be defined. The deal had been initiated by Ms. Dystel, the announcement said, but "negotiated and concluded by Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly LLP."

What happened between Mr. Obama and Ms. Dystel is not clear. Ms. Dystel declined to be interviewed for this article. Mr. Obama said, "It really had more to do with the fact that by the time ‘The Audacity of Hope' was written, I was going to be in Washington and was obviously now very high profile." Mr. Osnos called Mr. Obama's decision to switch to Mr. Barnett, whose clients include former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, "disloyal but not unusual."

Another victim under the bus. But why treat poor Ms. Dystel that way?:

"You're nobody in Washington without Barnett working for you," said a rival publisher, who asked not to be named. "Bob knows how to deal with the politics of a book as well as the selling of the book, Senate ethics rules, the advance. Bob is a fixer." Unlike literary agents, who take a percentage of an author's earnings, Mr. Barnett bills by the hour.

Ah, now it becomes clear. What next?:

Mr. Obama completed "The Audacity of Hope" in the summer of 2006. This time, he distributed drafts to several dozen friends and Senate staff members, many of whom now advise his campaign. They included David Axelrod, his chief political strategist; Anthony Lake, who was a national security adviser for President Bill Clinton; Gene Sperling, a former economic adviser to Mr. Clinton; and Samantha Power, who recently stepped down as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Obama after calling his opponent, Mrs. Clinton, "a monster."


The book's release in October 2006 must have been the envy of anyone who ever published a book or contemplated higher office. In Chicago, people started lining up outside 57th Street Books at 4:15 on the morning of Mr. Obama's book signing. For his Seattle signing, the Elliott Bay Book Company rented the 2,500-seat hall where the symphony performs, sold out the tickets in 90 minutes and reported a level of turnout that topped all previous records at the store for any author, including Mr. Clinton.

Did I mention that David Axelrod is a specialist at astroturfing? Oh, and he writes some of those pretty speeches that Deval Patrick Obama is famous for, so why not a book too? Just a thought.

And didn't the GOP use book deals as a way to bribe officials and provide sinecures? Crappy books written by prominent Republicans (and prominent Adam's apple Ann Coulter) bought up in mass quantities, making the books appear to be best sellers and earning "profits" for the author? (How else does one explain "Liberal Fascism?")

"Barack is worth millions now," Mr. Osnos said. "It's almost all based on these two books, two books not based on a job of prodigious research or risking one's life as a reporter in Iraq. He has written about himself. Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it's a stunning fact."

Yes, it's stunning, isn't it?

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Also, some quotes from "Audacity" about Obama's U.S. Senate campaign:

" campaign had gone so well that it looked like a fluke"

"Later, some reporters would declare me the luckiest politician in the entire fifty states. Privately, some of my staff bristled at this assessment, feeling that it discounted our hard work and the appeal of our message. Still, there was no point in denying my almost spooky good fortune. I was an outlier, a freak; to political insiders, my victory proved nothing.

No wonder then that upon my arrival in Washington that January, I felt like the rookie who shows up after the game, his uniform spotless, eager to play, even as his mudsplattered teammates tend to their wounds."

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

that it hurts less to hit than it does to be hit.

Obama: "I don’t claim to be a passive bystander in all this. I understood politics as a full-contact sport, and minded neither the sharp elbows nor the occasional blind-side hit."

Jack would agree. Daryl Stingley, not so much.

“The Clintons' biggest failure is that they couldn't get their own party to support them.” - Bartcop

corinne's picture
Submitted by corinne on

Clearly, Axelrod's press connections enabled him to get word out about both Hull's and Ryan's domestic problems. And as became clear, it was just par for the course, once the story of Alice Palmer came out, in clearing the path of any and all challengers.

Swift Loris's picture
Submitted by Swift Loris on

Re Obama's "tightly contested" U.S. Senate primary fight against Hull, from a New York Times Magazine profile of David Axelrod, April 1, 2007 (sorry, can't do links yet):

"It is difficult to discuss Axelrod in certain circles in Chicago without the matter of the Blair Hull divorce papers coming up. As the 2004 Senate primary neared, it was clear that it was a contest between two people: the millionaire liberal, Hull, who was leading in the polls, and Obama, who had built an impressive grass-roots campaign. About a month before the vote, The Chicago Tribune revealed, near the bottom of a long profile of Hull, that during a divorce proceeding, Hull’s second wife filed for an order of protection. In the following few days, the matter erupted into a full-fledged scandal that ended up destroying the Hull campaign and handing Obama an easy primary victory. The Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp had 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story. But there are those in Chicago who believe that Axelrod had an even more significant role ­ that he leaked the initial story. They note that before signing on with Obama, Axelrod interviewed with Hull. They also point out that Obama’s TV ad campaign started at almost the same time. Axelrod swears up and down that 'we had nothing to do with it' and that the campaign’s television ad schedule was long planned. 'An aura grows up around you, and people assume everything emanates from you,' he told me."

Uh-huh. There's an "aura," all right.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

but we know different.

What's so exasperating about his past actions in IL is that i for one know for sure he'll never fight any of the vote suppression and GOP cheating and other shit that will happen in Nov--and he'll never prosecute any Bush administration officials.

Submitted by lambert on

Smart move, given the givens:

Unlike literary agents, who take a percentage of an author’s earnings, Mr. Barnett bills by the hour.

But Jeebus, I remember all the yammering about how many millions Clinton got from her book deal. Looks like Obama's just a few stages behind in the process -- and didn't have to endure 10 years of engineered hatred by the VRWC to earn the cred to write it, either. Just business, though...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

on his book-- and on his rise in IL-- "...“Composite characters. Changed names. And reams of dialogue between Obama and other people that moves the narrative along but is an ‘approximation’ of the actual conversation,” she wrote in the Sun-Times. “Except for public figures and his family, it is impossible to know who is real and who is not.” ...

“Obama came in and had a very lucky break to come in in 90-something, make some of the right connections, and have an opening,” she said. “He returned to Chicago and worked with a law firm that gave him a lot of political network advantages, and started looking around for some office to run for, found this opening in the State Senate where he put himself in it. Now that’s not coming through the rough-and-tough of Chicago politics. And then once he knocked his opponent off the ballot ..." --

Submitted by lambert on

Sounds like the entire Obama campaign, to me. Especially when you ask yourself, as you've got to, how many of the OFB online are part of an Astro-Turf operation (Axelrod's dau job).

Obama didn't come up through Chicago politics, but Michelle, IIRC, is from the aristocracy of that world. I wonder if she was a cutout or communications channel to that world, to give Obama plausible deniability? That would make the recent "Don't attack my wife" look like a pre-emptive strike, eh? Pace Xenophon.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

is because of all the whispers/rumors of devastating video the GOP has of her, i think.

They know how much the rumors and emails smearing him have hurt him all over the country--i think they're trying to fight the same thing happening about her and any stuff the GOP oppo research ppl may have.

People are willing to believe almost everything they hear about them--it's like all the decades-long Clinton smears in a way, but ppl don't know the Obamas and don't have a public record to judge them on at all or to assess what's really true or false.

Submitted by lambert on

... Chicago politics being what it is, and the Obamas not totally prepared for the national stage, that is exactly the kind of video you would expect to exist, if you have a sufficient level of paranoia and cynicism. As I do. So....

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

even if nothing does exist's not like the GOP has any shame about all this stuff--they're experts, and it works every time.

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

writing about the "history" of Congress and describing what was wrong with Washington DC. That's pretty audacious for a rookie.

He's been running for President ever since (or all along)

“The Clintons' biggest failure is that they couldn't get their own party to support them.” - Bartcop

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

they picked him for the convention as the rising star--which they did for Clinton before, and others...

usually tho, the person picked for that spotlight doesn't run immediately for president, i don't think--do they?

Rrose's picture
Submitted by Rrose on

Obama's book deal comes up again. As someone who has worked in book publishing some 15 years, one of the first things I checked out about Obama was his book deal. What he did to his agent was suspect to me. I would not suggest that literary agents are better people than lawyers -and as Peter Osnos said it was merely disloyal, not unusual - but yeah,imo, that agent got thrown under the bus big time.

And, this may be "sorta, kinda" elitist (and I could very well be wrong because I haven't read either and as an HRC supporter I'm a low-info citizen), but isn't the prof in the NYT article who said "what he really wanted was the Virgina Woolf equivalent of a clean, well-lighted room" confusing literary attribs - V Woolf wrote A room of one's own and Hemingway A Clean well-lighted Place. well, anyway...