Happy Birthday Barack!
HBO kicked off “Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union” for the former President’s 60th birthday and clearly are to set to highlight Obama’s rhetoric and lofty promises foreshadowing the racial division and failures seen in 2021.
Opening with Obama’s 2008 race speech, the focus on racism is clear as he says America has “no choice” but to pursue a more perfect union (hence the title), presumably setting up a “post-racial” society after years of improvements in race relations.
The biographical sequence which follows mirrors his memoir “Dreams From My Father,” praising his family, his tolerant white grandparents in a racist time and talk about his struggles with black identity. Obama was clearly drawn to activism, even faking a removal from stage to draw attention to South African tensions — this was called a “stage thing,” by his classmate.
Obama opens up about his time around professors, moving to Columbia to become more interested in “issues of social change, politics, public policy and government. I started thinking more seriously about who I was and what I wanted.”
The president has been labeled a 60’s era activist turned politician by his critics and the documentary clearly lays the foundation of the ideology that would have riled critics and opponents.
Director Peter Kunhardt follows the community organizing roots to explain Obama’s transition to Chicago and quickly became a voice for the black community, learning how to relate to the churches and rallies.
“It gave me a home,” he says in the film.
This leads to a crisis of faith, finding a church and ultimately, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who Cornel West in the film, was deeply influenced by Malcolm X. Wright’s inflammatory sermons criticizing America, the war in the Middle East and, as West says: “the American empire.” Wright’s famous “God damn America!” would follow Obama years later.
The film highlights Barack reconnecting to his sister, his visit to Kenya and learning more about his father.
Barack went to law school, understanding he needed the credentials to get “power” to change things, something which couldn’t be done at the community organizing level. This transitions later in the film to set his run for State Senate and change through legislation.
Critical theorist Derek Bell’s protest is included, echoing the battle over race and tenure which is repeated today in 2021 as part of the “faculty diversity movement.”
Obama recollects Bell’s speech, influence years later, speaking about racism in America and the journey moves ahead to meeting Michelle Robinson.
Chicago became his home and Obama was quickly tapped to rally the black vote, via Project Vote, to oust President George H.W. Bush and helping elect Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.
It’s no surprise the Pew Research shows race relations were improving until President Obama and then declined horribly. Race or racism is mentioned in the documentary every couple of minutes, illustrating the Obama was not one to unite America beyond race, but was a person obsessed with race.
Obama reads this to an audience, quoting “Dreams From My Father”: “…the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. And the final irony: Should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger.””
Several interviews tout Barack as the “smartest” person they knew, an “incredible writer” or “really smart.”
Obama is correctly called “ambitious” more than once, strategically dodging some of Illinois “hornet’s nest” of politics and attacking Bobby Rush to get to Washington, get elected to the Senate.
Kunhardt moves quickly, never acknowledging the extreme nature of the individuals, including the Black Panthers, Wright and other community extremists.
In the wake of 9/11, the name Barack was an issue according to political consultants and, even thought didn’t have a close relationship with his father, he would not run as Barry and would defend his blackness.
“You think about Frederick Douglass, born Frederick Bailey, recreating himself. Malcolm Little becoming Malcolm X,” Coates said. “It’s this attempt for Black folks to reclaim some sort of identity.”
“…Race is at the center of the American dilemma and it always has been,” Obama said during the interview in the film, deflecting a conversation about being biracial.
Obama’s talk of “coalition” put him in the Senate and landed him the pivotal speech at DNC as John Kerry ran against President George W. Bush – a moment the documentary praises for over ten minutes.
Race. Race. Racism. Race. Racism. Race. The message is clear from this documentary: Obama is and was obsessed with race and racism in America.
The three-part series airs on HBO Max.