Mystery Man

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008; 9:32 AM

Time to float a small theory.

I was somewhat surprised to see this Time cover story yesterday on Obama's mother, so soon after Newsweek did its "When Barry Became Barack" cover. And it's not like Senator O hasn't been splashed on both mags' covers before.

Now you might say that's because Barack Obama is ahead and seen as the likely Democratic nominee. Well, maybe. But I think it's because the media continues to be fascinated by this guy: What makes him tick? Who influenced him? How did he come out of nowhere to the verge of pulling this off? What's his secret? Is America ready for a president with a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas--one who, according to Time, had four names in her life and followed two husbands to distant lands she knew nothing about?

Now compare that to Hillary Clinton. The media is clearly bored with her, even leaving aside all the chatter about superdelegate math and how she can't win. We know everything there is to know about her, with the possible exception of her unusual marriage. She's lived her life on the public stage. But with Obama there are all these mysteries to plumb. In this I suspect that journalists are reflecting the public's curiosity.

The fact that we don't really know Barack also leaves him vulnerable when the rantings of a Jeremiah Wright surface, and the underlying question is how Obama could have tolerated what he now says is offensive. But whether it's his pastor or his parents, we want to know more. We don't want a boring president. And it's a political imperative for Obama to define himself before his opponents define him, which is why it's surprising he hadn't anticipated that the Wright connection was bound to blow up at some point.

From the piece: "Ironically, the person who mattered most in Obama's life is the one we know the least about--maybe because being partly African in America is still seen as being simply black and color is still a preoccupation above almost all else. There is not enough room in the conversation for the rest of a man's story.

"But Obama is his mother's son. In his wide-open rhetoric about what can be instead of what was, you see a hint of his mother's credulity. When Obama gets donations from people who have never believed in politics before, they're responding to his ability--passed down from his mother--to make a powerful argument (that happens to be very liberal) without using a trace of ideology. On a good day, when he figures out how to move a crowd of thousands of people very different from himself, it has something to do with having had a parent who gazed at different cultures the way other people study gems."

The blogs are abuzz with talk of Obama apparently paving the way to blow off public financing in the general. Says Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:

"Why would Barack Obama break what John McCain considers an iron-clad promise to participate in the public financing system?

"First, Obama disputes the premise that he promised to take public money . . .

"The Republican National Committee will have more money than the DNC. Sources close to the RNC say that the general election budget has been set at about $150 million. Why would Obama voluntarily amputate a few toes when the race hits the fall turn?

"Obama has built the most impressive fundraising contraption in the history of presidential politics by leveraging technological advancements, harnessing the power of his own brand and exploiting the relative wealth and youth of his supporters . . .


CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company