Haley Barbour and the Case of the Mysterious Obama Biography

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 9 2010 9:01 AM

Haley Barbour and the Case of the Mysterious Obama Biography

I'm a bit late to this, but really, what did Haley Barbour mean yesterday?

"I don't know why people think what they think," Barbour, the head ofthe Republican Governor's Association, told USA Today. "This is apresident we know less about than any other president. But I have noidea."

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One of Barbour's faults as a potential 2012 candidate is the "dog whistle" problem. Mike Huckabee is the master of using subtle phrases to say something to part of the GOP base, usually the religious base. Tim Pawlenty isn't bad at it. Barbour's just ham-handed. In this case, he's tipping his hat to the popular narrative that the media "never vetted" Obama and thus never discovered the Marxism right below the surface. Here's a classic example of the genre from Cliff Kincaid.

We are living witnesses to an incredible media double standard, whereby a Republican vice-presidential candidate’s personal life is being torn apart, while the Democratic presidential candidate continues to get a free ride. Obama has a 30-year history of associating with unsavory characters, beginning with communist Frank Marshall Davis and continuing with Jeremiah Wright and communist terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, which should disqualify him from getting a security clearance in the government that he wants to run.

You see the paradox, right? Kincaid refers to things that the media covered and candidates brought up in debates to prove that the media didn't cover them or didn't go far enough. I was talking to a Republican strategist about something unrelated to this, and he made the cynical and correct point that if you lose an argument, you argue that you never really had the argument.

Is it true that some of Obama's old friends ducked media attention during the campaign? Sure. But they've talked to the media since then. Obama's early years through college are covered in pages 55 to 122 of the hardcover edition of David Remnick's The Bridge . In it we learn the addresses Obama lived at, why he went to Pakistan in 1981 (to visit some friends as part of a trip to see his mother in Indonesia), the day he spoke at a South Africa divestment rally (Feb. 18, 1981), the fact that some of his friends at Occidental were Marxists, some of the teachers and courses he had at Columbia (he took one with Edward Said and called him a "flake"), and his la-de-dah role in the nuclear freeze movement. The demands to know more about Obama focus on the release of his college thesis at Columbia and, sometimes, on knowing whether he's ever had a foreign passport. This is more than previous presidents were asked for; this is about grinding in that "Obama's hiding something about his origins or religion" narrative without actually bothering to read or report on those origins.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.