Steyn: Out 'Gatsby-ing' Gatsby

Rick Moran
Mark Steyn takes the recent revelation about Obama's literary agent's claim of Kenyan birth, combines it with Elizabeth Warren's bogus claim of Native American ancestry, and does some brilliant open field running by tying both false identity examples to F. Scott Fitzgerald's complicated character, Jay Gatsby.

"I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then," says Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. "His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people - his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. . . .  So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."

In a postmodern America, the things that Gatsby attempted to fake - an elite schooling - Obama actually had; the things that Gatsby attempted to obscure - the impoverished roots - merely add to Obama's luster. Gatsby claimed to have gone to Oxford, but nobody knew him there because he never went; Obama had a million bucks' worth of elite education at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard Law, and still nobody knew him ("Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him"). In that sense, Obama out-Gatsbys Gatsby: His "shiftless and unsuccessful" relatives - the deportation-dodging aunt on public housing in Boston, the DWI undocumented uncle, the $12-a-year brother back in Nairobi - are useful props in his story, the ever more vivid bit-players as the central character swims ever more out of focus, but they don't seem to know him either. The more autobiographies he writes, the less anybody knows. Like Gatsby presiding over his wild, lavish parties, Obama is aloof and remote: Let everyone else rave deliriously; he just has to be. He is in his way the apotheosis of the Age of American Incredibility. When just being who you are anyway is an incredible accomplishment, Obama managed to run and win on biography almost entirely unmoored from life.  But then, like Gatsby, he knew a thing or two about "the unreality of reality."

Roger Simon speculates that the reason the president refuses to release transcripts from college is that they might reveal his claim of foreign birth. That is certainly a possibility. Falsifying information in order to receive financial assistance is fraud. And while the statute of limitations would mean that Obama couldn't be prosecuted, it would end his political career.

Beyond that, there is this notion of Obama's heritage being a self-realized creation that suits his own "Roots" fantasy, making up for whatever deficiencies he believes he possesses as a black man. In a way, it's touching - and pathetic. Obama was largely elected because of biography. Can he be brought low for the same reason?

Using Jay Gatsby as a metaphor for questions about Barack Obama's biography is just about as good as it gets. Another brilliant piece from a brilliant and wise writer. Read the whole thing.


Mark Steyn takes the recent revelation about Obama's literary agent's claim of Kenyan birth, combines it with Elizabeth Warren's bogus claim of Native American ancestry, and does some brilliant open field running by tying both false identity examples to F. Scott Fitzgerald's complicated character, Jay Gatsby.

"I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then," says Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. "His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people - his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. . . .  So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."

In a postmodern America, the things that Gatsby attempted to fake - an elite schooling - Obama actually had; the things that Gatsby attempted to obscure - the impoverished roots - merely add to Obama's luster. Gatsby claimed to have gone to Oxford, but nobody knew him there because he never went; Obama had a million bucks' worth of elite education at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard Law, and still nobody knew him ("Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him"). In that sense, Obama out-Gatsbys Gatsby: His "shiftless and unsuccessful" relatives - the deportation-dodging aunt on public housing in Boston, the DWI undocumented uncle, the $12-a-year brother back in Nairobi - are useful props in his story, the ever more vivid bit-players as the central character swims ever more out of focus, but they don't seem to know him either. The more autobiographies he writes, the less anybody knows. Like Gatsby presiding over his wild, lavish parties, Obama is aloof and remote: Let everyone else rave deliriously; he just has to be. He is in his way the apotheosis of the Age of American Incredibility. When just being who you are anyway is an incredible accomplishment, Obama managed to run and win on biography almost entirely unmoored from life.  But then, like Gatsby, he knew a thing or two about "the unreality of reality."

Roger Simon speculates that the reason the president refuses to release transcripts from college is that they might reveal his claim of foreign birth. That is certainly a possibility. Falsifying information in order to receive financial assistance is fraud. And while the statute of limitations would mean that Obama couldn't be prosecuted, it would end his political career.

Beyond that, there is this notion of Obama's heritage being a self-realized creation that suits his own "Roots" fantasy, making up for whatever deficiencies he believes he possesses as a black man. In a way, it's touching - and pathetic. Obama was largely elected because of biography. Can he be brought low for the same reason?

Using Jay Gatsby as a metaphor for questions about Barack Obama's biography is just about as good as it gets. Another brilliant piece from a brilliant and wise writer. Read the whole thing.