At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 3, President Obama threw a knuckleball down the middle, and the media whiffed.
Most simply took Obama at his word that as a young man in Chicago, he "came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my lord and savior" and that as president, he asks "the Lord" every day to make him "an instrument of his will."
In a moment, I will address the sheer gamesmanship of this theological flutter to the center, but first, a word on the most revealing part of the sermonette. This revelation was missed by everyone in the media except the ever-observant morning radio host at 630 KHOW in Denver, Peter Boyles, who shared it with me.
Said Obama at one point in what seemed like a throwaway line, "My father, who I barely knew -- I only met once for a month in my entire life -- was said to be a non-believer throughout his life." Although he avoided specifics, Obama was referring to the Christmas of 1971, when Barack Obama, Sr. visited the extended Dunham family, including the ten-year-old Barry Obama, in Hawaii.
The president and his writers choose their words carefully for an occasion as public as the Prayer Breakfast. Obama could have safely left the relationship at "barely knew," and no one would have taken notice. Instead, he said he "met" his father, and then only once -- a locution that makes no sense for a boy who had allegedly lived more than two years with the man.
What Boyles believes -- and I think he's right -- is that Team Obama is preparing the media for a shift in the official Obama saga. To this point, the core of the Obama origins story has been that he and parents lived together as a family in Hawaii until Obama was two.
The marriage "might have worked out," Obama's mother tells her son as reported in his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father. When, however, Harvard offered Obama Sr. a fellowship to finish his Ph.D., he anguished his way to acceptance. "How can I refuse the best education?" he lamented. "It wasn't your father's fault that he left, you know," Ann tells Obama. "I divorced him."
Obama repeated this fiction as recently as September 2009, when he addressed the nation's schoolchildren. "I get it," he told the kids about childhood struggles. "I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother."
In my book, Deconstructing Obama, I coalesce the research done by several independent investigators on the question of Obama's origins, and my conclusions are irrefutable. There never was an Obama family.
Obama's mother left Hawaii for Seattle with little Barry in tow when he was just weeks old. Obama Sr. left Hawaii for Harvard before Barry's first birthday, while Barry and his mother were still in Seattle.
This may not seem like an earthshaking shift, but the official origins story served as the foundation for what biographer David Remnick rightly calls Obama's "signature appeal: the details of his own life as a reflection of a kind of multicultural ideal." As it happens, that ideal was grounded in sand. Obama ascended to the White House on the strength of a story he knew to be untrue.
As early as the summer of 2008, independent researchers had unraveled the oft-told Obama yarn. A single tug on the thread by anyone in the mainstream media -- the respectable conservative media, for that matter -- could have undone the candidacy. Instead, these "responsible" voices did all in their power to shore up the official Obama orthodoxy and scold those who would question it.
At the Prayer Breakfast, Obama shifted the focus from his earthly father to his heavenly one. He did not, however, present his sudden enthusiasm for Jesus Christ as a change of heart, but rather as a sharing of what had been in his heart all along. Unfortunately, nothing he has ever said or written supports this.
In Dreams, Obama talks about first attending Jeremiah Wright's Chicago church in 1988, but he speaks of Jesus only as someone other people embrace. He refers on one occasion to "Will's Jesus." On another occasion, a friend says to him, "We love you, man. Jesus loves you!" But Obama himself has nothing to say about Jesus.
Obama biographer David Mendell, who followed Obama on the 2004 Senate trail in Illinois, wryly observed, "Obama, without fail, would mention his church and his Christian faith when he was campaigning in black churches and more socially conservative downstate Illinois communities."
Yet when Mendell tried to talk to Obama about his faith and his "ever present bible," Obama proved "uncharacteristically short" in his responses. When Mendell persisted, Obama claimed that he was drawn to Christianity because "many of the impulses that I had carried with me and were propelling me forward were the same impulses that express themselves through the church." In other words, Jesus thought pretty much along the same progressive lines as he did.
In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama mentions Jesus only twice, both times with pure calculation. On one occasion, in an attempt to dispel the "liberal caricature," he claims that "just about every member of the Congressional Black Caucus believes Jesus Christ died for his or her sins."
In another, even more cynical moment, Obama exploits Jesus to keep his position on gay marriage flexible. "I must admit," says Obama of his current opposition, "that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion."
In his review of the Prayer Breakfast speech for Time Magazine, Michal Scherer acknowledges its "political advantages" and rightly observes that Obama is "laying the groundwork by seeking to short circuit conservative critiques."
This is not, however, a criticism. Says Scherer of Obama, "He was sending a signal to the Republican field: He will not allow others to define his own beliefs for him."
For a man capable of fabricating a relationship with his father -- to the point of writing a book about it -- fabricating a relationship with Jesus is no big deal, at least not to Scherer and the mainstream media. They are prepared to believe whatever Obama says and belittle those who don't.
Better still, from the media's perspective and Obama's, no one can ask for documentation about this relationship, at least not in the here and now.