US leader’s compelling narrative is a fairy tale


“It was early October 2007 in Iowa, the drying stalks still stood in cornfields grown more precious in the age of ethanol, and far away, in the moneyed precincts of both coasts, Barack Obama’s top donors were anxious. Despite having raised heaps of cash, he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in the national polls with only three months to go before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus.

For the worriers, it was getting late. But for Iowa voters, it was early enough that many barely knew what to make of this biracial rookie senator and still muffed his exotic name”.

These words, written by Alec MacGillis, capture Barack Obama’s improbable quest for the American presidency. Obama’s life narrative is transfixing. If it were a novel, it would probably be a detective novel with a riveting and merciless plot; unexpected twists and torturous turns that end with a heavy bang — leaving us breathless.

From the start, Obama’s quest for the presidency was doubtful — a black man with a Kenyan father and an American mother and with a middle name ‘Hussein’ seeking the American presidency.


His middle name, ‘Obama’, was easily confused with ‘Osama’, considered for a long time, America’s public enemy number one until his death. With such a name, someone else would probably have given up. After all, they are used to people with names that sound Irish or Scottish.

However, Obama’s life’s narrative arc picked up speed when he burst into the national limelight with the dazzling intensity of a meteor. He wooed and wowed Americans. With his two beautifully-written books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, he swooped down and Americans swooned over his prose.

It has been argued in some quarters that not since J.F. Kennedy has a younger politician so captured America’s imagination. However, Kennedy came from a dynasty.

As a brilliant American journalist once wrote, “If America had a Shakespeare, he would write the Kennedy story. He would understand immediately that here is all the stuff of human life, out-sized and compelling: Ambition, wealth, power, passion and love… He would see that this family’s saga is the story of the whole American Century, distilled to archetypes. The striving immigrant. The ruthless financier. The noble idealism. The public’s infatuation with youth and glamour…The cult of celebrity…”.

After the Kennedy dynasty, American politics has been dominated by known names — the Bush dynasty and the Clinton juggernaut. The narrative arcs of Obama’s life sometimes are so jarring in their odds that it seems almost too good to be true. Indeed, in a way, Obama is the stuff of American folktales, just like the Kennedys. He is indisputably the self-styled ‘King of Cool’. In fact, when exiting the presidential limousine in his black suit and sometimes black goggles, he at times looks a little too sharp and stylish, like a Hollywood celebrity.

The plot of his life thickened when then Senator Barack Obama was pitted against then prohibitive frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary was a formidable opponent with a terrifying iconography, from corporate lawyer to First Lady and then to Senator. And she had the services of her husband, Bill Clinton, the consummate American politician and campaigner. However, Senator Barack Obama beat Clinton overwhelmingly in the Democratic presidential nomination, leaving her and her supporters stunned and gasping for air.


After the party nominations, then the suspense heightened when the rookie and unknown senator had to battle it for the American presidency with the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, a decorated war hero and an accomplished political maverick as solidly anchored as a rock; threateningly unflappable and unmoving. However, it was Obama who proved the tougher nut to crack.

Obama’s political fights are fought with surprising intensity and ruthlessness, reminding one of the words of a character named Jim Malone in the movie dialogue The Untouchables. Malone says: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way”. And President Barack Obama likes to say, “I am skinny but I’m tough. I’m from Chicago”.

When President Obama entered the White House in 2008 with much aplomb, ululation and cheers, his life’s narrative proved to be the stuff of which fairy tales are made of. His life at the White House- the bullet proof car, the cool plane (Air Force One) and the swift salutes are straight from the movies. His is indeed an inspiring story made sweeter for us because of its unique Kenyan roots.