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Obama(s) Over the Years
January 18, 2009 10:20 AM   Subscribe

The New Yorker has reprinted their articles about the Obamas over the years.
  • From a 1996 profile as part of a series about couples in America: MICHELLE OBAMA: There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it’s unclear. There is a little tension with that. I’m very wary of politics. I think he’s too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.
  • From a story about his Senate campaign: He was affable with everyone, smiling warmly, but in exchanges that lasted more than a few seconds it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor—the blushing, polysyllabic grad student, the hefty black church-pillar lady, the hip-hop autoshop guy. Black activists sometimes say that African-American kids need to become “bi-dialectic”—to speak both black English and standard English—to succeed. Obama, the biracial kid from Hawaii, speaks a full range of American vernaculars.

    There are others. Read in sequence, it's an interesting series of snapshots, with the guy slowly coming into focus.

  • posted by cogneuro (35 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

     
    I liked this exchange reported in the 2004 article:

    Jan Schakowsky told me about a recent visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her “OBAMA” button. “He jumped back, almost literally,” she said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’
    posted by joe lisboa at 10:51 AM on January 18, 2009 [22 favorites]


    Gee, they're really likable people. Nice style. I love his hand on her thigh. Tender. aww, his face, vulnerable looking.
    posted by nickyskye at 10:58 AM on January 18, 2009


    that's the same profile Le Monde published not long ago?
    i wrote about it here.
    posted by liza at 11:01 AM on January 18, 2009


    He was affable with everyone, smiling warmly, but in exchanges that lasted more than a few seconds it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor—the blushing, polysyllabic grad student, the hefty black church-pillar lady, the hip-hop autoshop guy. Black activists sometimes say that African-American kids need to become “bi-dialectic”—to speak both black English and standard English—to succeed. Obama, the biracial kid from Hawaii, speaks a full range of American vernaculars.

    I think anybody who spends a lot of time talking to different people as part of their job winds up doing that, almost unconciously.
    posted by jonmc at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


    This coming Friday, WTTW-Chicago is airing a "lost" episode of "Check Please." It's "lost" because one guest dominated the conversation, raving about the food he ate (it's a restaurant review show). The other two guests didn't get to talk as much. That dominating guest ... Barack Obama, foodie.
    posted by macadamiaranch at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


    Check out the cover of tomorrow's issue of The New Yorker... from the artist formerly known for terrorist fist jab.
    posted by Poolio at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2009


    He was affable with everyone, smiling warmly, but in exchanges that lasted more than a few seconds it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor

    Name repetition, personality mirroring, and positive reinforcement through nods and smiles.
    posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:11 AM on January 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Naw we straight.
    posted by foot at 11:20 AM on January 18, 2009


    Never break off a handshake.
    posted by synaesthetichaze at 11:23 AM on January 18, 2009


    Obama is one of the few politicians who, the more I learn about him, the more I respect him. I know I'm not going to agree with everything he does (hell, when I was in Portland, I didn't agree with everything Blumenauer did), but I know that he'll have thought things through. I knew he was a professor, but I didn't realize that he'd taught constitutional law. Little things like that make me look forward to Tuesday even more.
    posted by Hactar at 11:29 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Once upon a time Bill and Hillary seemed real and true to themselves. I so hope that Barack and Michelle are able to maintain their integrity and that beautiful Barack can keep up his excellent vitality, he'll need it.
    posted by nickyskye at 11:29 AM on January 18, 2009


    I think anybody who spends a lot of time talking to different people as part of their job winds up doing that, almost unconciously.

    Yeah, I do this to such a degree it's embarrassing. When I worked at cafe, some English people thought I was making fun of them, because apparently whatever was coming out of my mouth sounded more English than American to them, though I had no idea I sounded any different. So I told them to stop being such silly cunts and shut their feckin gobs. I kid!

    As for the interviews, the Obamas are so refreshingly consistent, it's almost frightening. I am feeling pretty apprehensive about the weight of expectation riding on his shoulders. He's bound to not live up to anyone's expectations, just because he can't just make everything better. I hope people realize that everything is going to suck and be difficult for a good long time, and that no one person can change things overnight.
    posted by oneirodynia at 11:33 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    This is really great, thank you.

    When I worked at cafe, some English people thought I was making fun of them, because apparently whatever was coming out of my mouth sounded more English than American to them, though I had no idea I sounded any different.

    I have this problem too, and my mother says it comes from my father's side, who are great mimics. Being abroad last year I quickly became friends with a big crowd of English, and we hung out rather exclusively. After only a week or so I started phrasing my questions the English way, if you know what I mean, and my accent began to change. It was entirely unconscious but my few American friends would look at me like I were some kind of crazy, pretentious actor.

    The plus side of this is that, if you are into foreign languages, your accent will quickly become top-notch, and eventually nearly indistinguishable from natives. Of course there is also the positive noted in the Obama profile--an ability to relate to people simply by picking up their vernacular and way of speaking. It's a great tool, even if it is a little multiple-personality-style neurotic. ;)
    posted by nonmerci at 11:46 AM on January 18, 2009


    When I worked at cafe, some English people thought I was making fun of them

    I hear you. I think some people are naturally more empathic and Zelig-like, and I'm one of them. That's an asset for a politician, methinks. I'd go into politics if I weren't such an obviously unambitious layabout with poor grades and a poorer work history.
    posted by fleetmouse at 11:49 AM on January 18, 2009


    I know I'm not going to agree with everything he does

    Just know that the last phone call you made to your physician, attorney, or clergyperson could have been recorded and played for the amusement of an NSA employee - all without a warrant, and all with Obama's seal of approval.
    posted by Joe Beese at 11:54 AM on January 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


    I think Obama voted for what he could get passed. He was one vote out of 100. We'll see what happens when he's president.
    posted by empath at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2009


    I think anybody who spends a lot of time talking to different people as part of their job winds up doing that, almost unconciously.

    It's called "mirroring" and is universal to everyone.
    posted by stbalbach at 12:08 PM on January 18, 2009


    MetaFilter: We're bi-dialectic, amirite?
    posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Cspan just reaired Obama giving a talk on his 2004 book tour and it was amusing as hell to see the people tell him to run for president and Obama telling them he was going to the Senate as the most junior man there. "I'm going to be sharpening pencils and sweeping up. Don't get your hopes up," he said.
    Hah.
    I totally believe he meant it at the time, too.
    posted by CunningLinguist at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Huh. Obama has a past. And here's me thinking he just came from Krypton.

    Thanks for this. I've been reading parts of them out to people over my shoulder, it's fascinating stuff. Obama seemed to come from nowhere, he has this superhuman image. Which means that things like this (from 1996!) are either the stuff of legend, or sacred, like they're the relics of a saint.
    posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 1:19 PM on January 18, 2009


    The sainthood ceremony isn't scheduled until Friday!
    posted by jamstigator at 1:35 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, I do this to such a degree it's embarrassing. When I worked at cafe, some English people thought I was making fun of them, because apparently whatever was coming out of my mouth sounded more English than American to them, though I had no idea I sounded any different.

    I once did this, accidentally, at a bar in Hollywood to Morrissey. He was sitting (morosely, natch) at a table with a (morose-looking) woman who was dressed almost identically in the same suit and haircut. I was there with a large group of people, and we needed some extra chairs for our table. So I went up to Morrissey and asked him if we could have a couple of his chairs, and when he responded in the affirmative I unconsciously aped his accent and said "cheers, then!" in a lame British accent. Evidently they thought I was taking the piss (heh) and they left. Whoops.

    posted by scody at 1:43 PM on January 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Obama seemed to come from nowhere

    Only if you weren't really paying attention. I started following him seriously after that May 04 New Yorker piece, and was glad to already know who he was when he blew the walls down at the convention that summer.

    Jan Schakowsky of button fame was in the running as a possible replacement for his Senate seat before Blagojevich imploded.
    posted by CunningLinguist at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2009


    Nice post, looking forward to reading these! On the chameleon dialenct thing, not sure if this has been mentioned before, but Zadie Smith did a little lecture recently for the New York Public Library expanding on just this phenomena:

    Central to her premise was the question of whether a voice is meant to be singular, or a synthesis of disparate things; and despite the many characters and stories she alluded to, this speech, given exactly a month and a day after America’s new President Elect had been announced, relied on Obama as its central figure; he being a “genuinely many-voiced man” who “doesn’t just speak for you, he can *speak you*"

    Sorry for the mini derail
    posted by doobiedoo at 2:34 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Nice post. Interesting articles about an interesting couple - I hope to hear more about them in the future.
    posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    The Toronto Star just republished a 1990 article written when Obama won the presidency of the Harvard Review.
    posted by PercussivePaul at 5:55 PM on January 18, 2009


    Heh. My brother-in-law was at Harvard Law with Obama -- they used to take smoke breaks together. A few years ago, shortly before Obama even officially entered the campaign, my b-i-l recalled that after the first time he met Obama, he turned to his roommate and said, "man, one day, we're all going to be working for that guy."
    posted by scody at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


    Scody: Did you wait on Morrissey at the Cat and Fiddle by chance? Um, lovey? Cheers?
    posted by Kloryne at 6:24 PM on January 18, 2009


    And I meant "waited on" as in got chairs for. You know.
    posted by Kloryne at 6:25 PM on January 18, 2009


    Heh. My brother-in-law was at Harvard Law with Obama -- they used to take smoke breaks together. A few years ago, shortly before Obama even officially entered the campaign, my b-i-l recalled that after the first time he met Obama, he turned to his roommate and said, "man, one day, we're all going to be working for that guy."

    The irony being that, technically, he's now working for all of us.
    posted by Green With You at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Non US American citizens excluded of course.
    posted by Green With You at 8:14 PM on January 18, 2009


    Here's a Toronto Star article from 1990 on Barack.
    posted by SNACKeR at 8:32 PM on January 18, 2009


    From: the Toronto Star article of 1990 perhaps the most disheartening on Obama I've read thusfar:

    "He's willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don't have and don't care to have," said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. "His election was significant at the time, but now it's meaningless because he's becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment)."

    I can imagine progressives being unhappy how much he reaches across the aisle. He seems to have a history of it though. I think a lot of democrats were hoping the right's portrayal as an ultra-liberal was correct. I imagine he's more of a centrist (which is probably what got him elected).

    One could argue that the a centrist position of a decade ago looks 'ultra-liberal' in the current political landscape.
    posted by el io at 6:03 AM on January 19, 2009


    I too do that weird Zelig linguistic patterning thing. I don't mean to do it, I don't even realize I'm doing it...and yet, there it is.

    Obama: I haven't been real happy with some of his decisions since the election, but he's still better than the alternative would have been...of this I am sure.

    But I fear what will happen to this country if in the middle of this obscene financial meltdown, with unemployment going through the roof, and tent cities springing up all over the country, if the huge populist surge that put him in office becomes angry. And I think they will, if they feel like they've been tricked.

    If "Change" only means that we changed Residents and not the direction of the country...I think things are going to be real ugly down on the street level of America.
    posted by dejah420 at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2009


    Did you wait on Morrissey at the Cat and Fiddle by chance?

    It was indeed the Cat & Fiddle! (I think it's his regular hangout here?) I wasn't waiting on him, though -- was just there with a large group out on the patio, and we needed to steal some chairs.
    posted by scody at 9:11 PM on January 19, 2009


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