Friday, August 15, 2008
THERE'S A cottage industry in books about Barack Obama; by one count, more than 20 are just out or are in the works. But few debut in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, as Jerome R. Corsi's "The Obama Nation" will do among nonfiction hardcover titles this week. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, given his earlier hit job on the last Democratic nominee, Mr. Corsi's latest is rife with inaccuracies and innuendo. If the fundamental smear of "Unfit for Command" was that John F. Kerry was no war hero, the insinuation of Mr. Corsi's latest is that Mr. Obama is a closet Muslim and militant, black activist drug-user.
"The Obama Nation" -- the ungainly play on words (abomination, get it?) is "fully intended," the author tells us -- reprises the Corsi method. Mr. Corsi boasts that "I fully document all arguments and contentions I make, extensively footnoting all references" and asserts that "my fundamental opposition to Obama's presidential candidacy involves public policy differences." But footnoting to a discredited blog item does not constitute careful scholarship, and the bulk of Mr. Corsi's book has nothing to do with issues.
He gets facts wrong, from the date of Mr. Obama's marriage to whether he dedicated his autobiography to his family (he did) to whether he revealed that he took his future wife on his second trip to Kenya (he did.) He makes offensive statements: "The sexual attraction of his mother to her African husband jumps out from the page."
When facts are lacking, Mr. Corsi makes his point by suggestive questions. Noting that Life magazine could find no record of an article that Mr. Obama remembered reading as a child about a black man who tried to lighten his skin, Mr. Corsi asks, "How much more imagining, hypothetical lying, or just plain lying is Obama capable of doing?" When facts are present, he twists them to make Mr. Obama bad.
Mr. Corsi's discussion of Mr. Obama's drug use -- disclosed by Mr. Obama in his autobiography -- manages to combine a few of these techniques. "Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the U.S. Senate?" In fact, Mr. Obama has said that he stopped using drugs when he was 20. Mr. Corsi is similarly misleading about Mr. Obama's religious background, questioning his claim to be Christian. "Obama had to know that running for political office, even state office, would be much more difficult to do if voters suspected he was a Muslim," Corsi writes. "Yet once Obama became a member of Trinity, he had proof he was a Christian, as he professed to be."
Mr. Corsi has dismissed criticisms of his book as "nit-picking," an odd defense coming from an author happy to inflate any possible omission into a full-blown evasion. Mary Matalin, the Republican political strategist who heads Threshold Editions, the Simon & Schuster division that published "The Obama Nation," described the book to the New York Times as "a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that." That would not be our description.