Saturday, May 19, 2012

Barack and Don

Well, I guess we can all sleep a bit easier, since Loretta Lynn's real age has finally been revealed.  Turns out the country music legend is a bit older than she has previously admitted.  According to records obtained by the Associated Press, Miss Lynn was born in 1932, not 1935 as she has long claimed.  For those interested, that makes her current age 80, not 77.  It also means she was 15 years old when she married her husband Mooney, and  not 13, the age listed in her autobiography and the Oscar-winning film, Coal Miner's Daughter.

The AP account (published in the Washington Examiner and other papers) shows the effort employed by the wire service to determine Miss Lynn's real age:

"...Lynn's birth certificate on file at the state Office of Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Ky., shows that Loretta Webb was born on April 14, 1932, in Johnson County, Kentucky. That makes her 80 years old, not 77. Also on file is her marriage license and two affidavits from her mother, Clara Marie Ramey, and S.W. Ward Jr., who was not related to the family, listing the same birthdate.

The records weren't filed until 1965, which meant that Lynn needed multiple documents to prove her age at that time. Lynn's signature appears on the document as Loretta Webb Lynn.

Melvin Webb lists his daughter "Loretta" as 7 years old for the 1940 Census, according to a digital copy on file at the Kentucky Historical Society. Lynn's marriage license, obtained by the AP from the Johnson County clerk's office lists her as 15 on Jan. 10, 1948."

Whew...sure glad that's cleared up.  And now that we know Loretta Lynn's 80 and not 77, perhaps the AP will demand some sort of fitting punishment.  Perhaps Miss Lynn should be forced to return some of her gold records, or the Kennedy Center Honor that she received a few years ago.  Apparently, lying about the circumstances of your birth is a serious offense, judging from the AP's investigative work on Loretta Lynn.

Meanwhile, the world's largest news organization remains curiously silent on the "birth issues" that are still dogging President Obama.  During a cursory search, I couldn't find an single AP article on this week's revelation that Mr. Obama's literary agent listed him as being born in Kenya for more than 17 years, a period that spanned his graduation from Harvard Law School, through his first (and only) term as a U.S. Senator.  The  information appeared in both print and on-line forums describing the firm's clients.

The agent dismisses the Kenyan birth claim as some sort of "mistake."  Fair enough, but how did it linger for so long, as Obama progressed from being the first African-American President of Harvard Law, to a contender for the highest office in the land?  Moreover, we can't find anyone in the MSM (including the Associated Press) who has bothered to ask who was in charge of proofing the biography, including Mr. Obama himself.

Consider this: how many of your have generated or reviewed your own biography,  for an organization website, publication, or perhaps for an awards or recognition package.  Assuming your bio included your place of birth, how many of you would leave the information unchanged, even if the biography listed you as being born in another country?  Mr. Obama's inability (read: refusal) to spot the mistake and demand a correction speaks volumes about his character.  As Roger L. Simon observed the other day, this episode is a loser for the President, no matter how you slice it.  Whatever the real circumstances behind the literary firm biography, Mr. Obama looks like a liar.

So, why the deception about Obama's place of birth?  We'll assume, for a moment, that he was born in Hawaii, as indicated by his birth certificate (which was released more than two years after he entered the White House) and other information, such as the birth announcement that appeared in Honolulu newspapers.  Why, some 30 years later, did he (or his literary) change "Hawaii" to "Kenya?"  

Obviously, because the firm (and Mr. Obama) had something to gain. A more exotic biography would make Obama more enticing as a prospective offer, increasing his chances of getting a book deal (and an agent's fee for his literary representative).  But, when the author began setting his sights on the White House, the claim of a foreign birth became problematic, and the sixteen-year-old error was finally corrected.

Now, let's suppose a conservative politician (Mitt Romney, for argument's sake) made the same mistake.  Would the press be willing to buy the excuse of an editorial mistake--one that went unnoticed for more than 10 years? You can probably answer that one on your own.

But there's a larger issue at work here.  What type of individual lies about his background (or lets others do it for him) for the better part of two decades?  Writing at National Review, Mark Steyn likens Obama to Jay Gatsby, the F. Scott Fitzgerald character who invented a past that was most pleasing and convenient for him.  Steyn compares the aloof Obama to Fitzgerald's character, totally aloof as the social and political whirl spins about them.  In Steyn's words, "the more autobiographies [Mr. Obama writes] the less we know about him.  And obviously, what we do know about him has been carefully tested and contrived.  

While we like the Gatsby analogy for Mr. Obama, we think there's one that is even more appropriate.  In some respects, Obama's vague (but storybook) past reminds us of Don Draper on AMC's Mad Men. Anyone remotely familiar with the series knows that Draper, the creative director of two major advertising agencies, has long held a dark secret.  He was born Dick Whitman, the illegitimate son of a prostitute who lived in poverty as a child and was abused by his stepfather.

After dropping out of high school, Whitman winds up in the Army during the Korean War, serving under a lieutenant named Don Draper.  When the real Draper is killed in a gasoline fire (and his body is burned beyond recognition), Whitman takes his dog tags and becomes the lieutenant, figuring it may give him a chance for a better life.  His deception goes unnoticed until one of Draper's agency rivals, Pete Campbell, learns his secret and reveals the news to the firm's senior partner, Bert Cooper, who shrugs it off. "Who cares?" he tells Campbell.

To some degree, certain constituencies in American life resemble senior management at Sterling Cooper.  From their perspective, Barack Obama's many mistakes, lies and deceptions are easy enough to spot, but keeping him in office serves a larger purpose and agenda.   Key among those groups are the American media.  Having invested so much to get him into the White House, they will do almost anything to preserve him in power, even if it means overlooking certain, obvious contradictions.

That's why the AP will move heaven and earth to determine the real age of Loretta Lynn, but they can't be bothered to investigate similar contradictions involving the most powerful man on earth.  As for Mr. Obama, he understands there are certain advantages to changing your public persona when the need arises, particularly if no questions the switch, or the reasons behind it.  Too bad he went into politics.  Born a bit earlier, he might have had quite a career on Madison Avenue during the 1960s.


F said...

All of this makes sense in the manner of a play by Ionescu, but there's a larger issue: why doesn't anyone in the Fourth Estate care? Why is there no industry analyst debunking the entire journalistic treatment of the 2008 election? Isn't there someone (other than a few writers in the blogosphere) who care that their profession swayed an election for Obama and that he turns out to be ineffective, a liar, and prone to break things? I have said since the previous campaign kicked off that someday this whole thing will be a case study in journalism schools. Why has that not started? Are journalists so in the tank for what is clearly a failed presidency that they want to see another? Is this a power trip or a religion for the practitioners of that profession?

Bob H said...

OK, lets say we buy the argument that the "resume" mistake was to enhance his marketability ... didn't the Yahoo guy have to resign after he did the same thing?
Keep up the good work.