One interesting metric on this year’s presidential race will be the relative sales figures of two new biographies of Barack Obama, Edward Klein’s “The Amateur” and David Maraniss’ “Barack Obama: The Story.”
It is too early to tell how Maraniss’s book will fare — it was just released to excellent reviews — but Klein’s is a best-seller, topping New York Times best-seller list. Klein claims, among other things, that Obama is a Muslim and a socialist. Klein has written many other high profile books with claims that wouldn’t pass muster at the National Enquirer, like Bill Clinton raped his wife which led to the birth of their daughter. That was a hard sentence to write, and it is claims like these that led conservative John Podhoretz, no friend of the Clintons, to write that he not only needed a shower after reading Klein’s Clinton book, he needed to be “decontaminated.”
I have not read Maraniss’ book on Obama yet, but I have read almost all his other work. He is a great biographer, linking the stories of his subjects to the society and culture that shaped them. He has taken household names as diverse as Vince Lombardi and Bill Clinton and provided deep, new insights about their lives and character. My bet is that his new book does the same for Obama. But I wonder if it will sell well, and I think my doubt speaks to something true about these political times. The audience in politics is increasingly crowded into the “pit” to put it in Elizabethan theater terms. The pit is not interested in truth and character development; it is interested in titillation and character assassination. And, right now, the pit is stocked with Obama haters, those who deny him even his citizenship or his religion.