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Fix Pick: Maraniss' Masterpiece On Obama's Rise

Presidential candidate Barack Obama attends a rally at American University in January 2008, before his election was a sure thing. Obama's path to the presidency began many years before, as detailed in David Maraniss' piece. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In less than 36 hours, President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol as the 44th president of the United States.

Until then, we wait. (An inauguration secret: the day before is, well, sort of boring.)

Luckily, the Post commissioned David Maraniss -- yes, that David Maraniss -- to pen a sweeping narrative of the improbable rise of Obama to the highest elected office in the country.

No one -- and we mean NO ONE -- does these big picture pieces as well as Maraniss, and this one is no exception, as he weaves little known details of Obama's life with historical detail (who knew so much happened in the civil rights fight on the day Obama was born?) that presents the man meeting the moment.

"There is improbability in the making of any president, some more than others, none comparable to Obama," writes Maraniss at the opening of the story before detailing the lives of the women and man in El Dorado (that el-duh-RAY-dough if you were wondering) who became the next president's mother and grandparents.

Maraniss, as only he can, describes Obama's nomadic existence during his college and post college years -- stops in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and finally Chicago -- as a "modern-day version of the classical odyssey, leaving home for a long journey in search of home."

And, finally, Maraniss details the combination of luck and will power that led Obama to be elected to the Illinois state Senate in 1996, the U.S. Senate eight years later and the White House in 2008.

Writes Maraniss:

"The essence of Barack Obama has been his capacity to avert life's roadblocks and disappointments during his journey. The first could have been his unusual family biography, with the challenges it presented in terms of stability and psychology. The second could have been the sociology of race in America, with its likelihood of rejection and cynicism. And the final was the geography of elective politics, with all the variables of ideology and luck. In each case, Obama kept moving, finding his way around dead ends, avoiding the traps."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves -- literally.

Maraniss' story is a terrific piece that frames the historicity of tomorrow's events and should be considered must-read material for any true political junkie.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 19, 2009; 7:44 AM ET
Categories:  Fix Picks , White House  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: "Obama-Stock"
Next: FixCam Week in Preview: Inauguration Week


I feel better now about trying to find anything substantively worthy enough to read about President-elect Obama's believe-it-or-not rise if David Maraniss has done his literary take on it. I once quoted a passage of his book on Vince Lombardi to a community college writing class and the students literally exhaled in appreciation of the nuance and crisp beauty of the writing when I finished speaking.

Posted by: elldre3 | January 20, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse


Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 19, 2009 10:48 PM | Report abuse

What are you suggesting you Wacko(scrivner)That Bush is planning a terrorist attack against the nation, plus the idea of crimilizing policy differences is stricting the domain of the wacky left. Nothing would divide the country more and then when the R's get power again they could prosecute Obama and his administration for anything they didn/t like. Grow up dude.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 19, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Maraniss deserves your accolades (by the way, I cast my vote that you abandon the "Broder Dean of the pundits" ship). "First in his class" is the seminal book for understanding Bill Clinton.

Posted by: tobetv | January 19, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Just read it. Maraniss's piece was excellent, crisp, and to the point. No bloviating, just the facts. Liked the BHO reference to Akron native Lebron. Best political profile since Tim Dickinson's critically acclaimed article on Mac last year. Two thumbs up.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | January 19, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

O-Nation -- minus 24 hours
The great experiment in democracy soon begins...


Planet Earth

Posted by: broadwayjoe | January 19, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse


Chris: The eve of Inauguration day BORING?

We're taking bets as to the exact hour, sometime today or possibly tomorrow morning, that George. W. Bush's 11th hour presidential pardons will become publicly known.

Will he issue a blanket pardon that covers himself, Cheney, and the entire "war on terror" army?

Will his pardons steal the thunder from Obama's swearing in...

...or will the media become a willing accomplice in a calculated effort to slip the pardons by quietly, without fanfare, in the midst of "Obamamania"?

Some of us are pondering another disquieting possibility on this last full day of the Bush administration: whether George W. Bush's repeated warnings about a transition-timed terrorist attack could come to pass...

... and exactly what Bush meant by that comment at his final press conference that some people may "write off" his warnings by saying, in Bush's words, "you know, he's trying to set something up."

And what's with that announcement this morning from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino that Bush has named Defense Secretary Robert Gates as "designated successor" in the event of a national emergency?

Do you EVER recall such an announcement before any other inauguration in American history? I don't...


And, in a related matter...


• Extrajudicial targeting and punishment allows a calculated bypass of the judicial system -- paving the way for myriad abuses.

NOTE: An attempt to post this commentary here earlier this morning failed, and was met with a message that the post was "being held for the blog owner." I believe this message was NOT generated by The Washington Post, but by a third-party censor with an ideological agenda.

Here is a link to another article that SOMEONE does not want YOU to read:

OR (if link is disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 19, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

When TARP was first proposed, I wrote to my Senators (Schumer and Clinton) to encourage them - at a minimum - to provide oversight if the bailout went through. We can all see how well that worked. I've been hoping, now that the talk seems to be returning to the "toxic assets" that an RTC approach might yet be tried. Since the Democratic congress seems to be finding the voice it lost during the Bush administration (at least w/ regard to the stimulus package) I plan to follow Mark's example and write again to suggest Congress and the new administration consider an RTC-like approach. As you said earlier, we should learn from both the experience in the 80's - and the recent debacle with the first half of the bailout funds.

Posted by: -pamela | January 19, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Thanx bhoomes. It also seems to me that when we do not have to reinvent the wheel because we went through this same "stuff" with the failed thrifts just 20 years ago [and after some false starts figured it out] that we should actually learn from our experience.

So how do we get the Rs, Ds, Admin and Congress to hear this? I have written to Dodd's committee, Frank's committee, and the two congressmen and the senator who were my law school classmates. I count Rs and Ds among the folks I have written. But on this issue all I get is the noncommittal form response.

Informally I am told that no one wants to commit to anything "too early". Too early? What?

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 19, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Yea, I agree with you Mark, I was against the TARP idea from the beginning because the Banks can simply do what they want with the money plus I believe in Capitalism. Simply put you die if you don't run your business well. Proping up failure is no way to rescue the economy. In the spirit of Bipartisan this Republican is ready to admit the republicans share msot of the blame for the out of control national debt. But got to stop this out of control spending. If spending could pull us out of a recession then 1934 would have been a year of great prosperity.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 19, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

bhoomes, read

I seldom agree with Krugman but I do agree with him here and have been saying this here and elsewhere for months.

In short: let sick banks fail by using the mechanism of the RTC in the late 80s. take over a sick bank, shed the toxic assets, wipe out the stockholders, and resell the slimmed downn viable entity to a healthy bank or investor group.

RTC was expensive, but it was cheaper than
TARP and it worked, over a reasonable time.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 19, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Yes, we can always be proud of the peacefull transfer of Power every four years, but the coverage is getting to be over the top to the point of making Obama a cult like figure. Chris, can you get your media friends to get a grip and ask Obama if the economy is going to take years to recover, then why are going to blow a TRILLION dollars. Didn't he tell us we needed the economic stimulas to jump start the economy. In his own words its going to take years, he's all but admitting this wastefull spending is not going to a damn thing other than saddle the next generation with a debt they can never repay. Journalist quit your idol worship long enough to do your job.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 19, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the reference, Chris. I was about to enter my sophomore year at Rice when BHO was born, and I enjoyed the retrospective look at the early 60s.

Knowing where a friend came from helps to know where s/he might go. That is not often true at the remove of political biography where the recitation of facts substitutes for the subjective view of a narrative from a friend, but it is often the best we can do. Thanks again.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 19, 2009 8:15 AM | Report abuse

There has always been a Plan for Humanity, as there has always been Dedicated, advanced and Awakened Souls to that Plan -- who point the way, and who live by the below creed "that we are One" -- and -- to their mission to help implement and fulfil that Plan for Humanity, which began so many years ago by our Solar Logos, and implemented by those messengers of Light: Christ, Buddha, and others (lesser and greater)..... Attributes of an enlightened Soul are detachment, inclusiveness, forgivenss, intelligence, and a great capacity to love and serve.

"I am a messenger of Light. I am a pilgrim on the way of love. I do not walk alone but know myself as one with all great souls, and one with them in service. Their strength is mine. This strength I claim. My strength is theirs and this I freely give. A soul, I walk on earth. I represent the ONE." -- Discipleship in the New Age I, pg. 140

These advanced and awakened or enlightened Souls know that we are one. That we incarnate into the body, the flesh, from that one Source and that when we die or leave that body, we return to the One Source, which each thread of living, lighted, loving Soul originates from (for the blood is the life, and all blood is one colour, red). And to that they are dedicated -- to that conscious knowing and thereby living on earth. This is important as we enter into the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Brotherhood and Enlightment!

Posted by: dsoulplane | January 19, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

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