The “Obama Bear Market” And Why He Triggered It

On the last day of the ill-fated Bush
Administration, the Dow Jones average stood at 8,281, down
catastrophically from its 2007 peak—yet still almost 25
percent higher than the Dow`s close on Friday, March 6, 2009
of 6,627.

You might think that George W. Bush
would be an easy act to follow. After all, he was inept
enough to overlook the basic rule of politics that kept the
family`s friends in Mexico`s PRI party
in power for so
many years: Make sure the economic collapse happens right
after the
election, not right before.

And yet, what is now technically the "Obama
Bear Market
" shows that Obama may be down to the
challenge of being Bush`s successor.

It`s important to understand that Obama
was never a

Depression Democrat
who worries that the capitalist
system can`t produce enough wealth. Obama didn`t run for
President to help Americans earn more money. By

, he`s more a

Sixties person
who assumes that businesspeople will
continue—in their unseemly way—to produce plenty of riches,
which a better sort of person (such as, say, himself) should

in a more equal and refined manner.

When Obama began his campaign in early
2007, this worldview made a certain amount of sense. In
early 2009, however, it`s obviously out of date. We aren`t

as rich as we thought we were
before the bubble burst.

So far, Obama has implemented a
three-pronged response to the Great Crash: 

With Obama increasingly floundering,
it`s time to revisit the questions that nobody seemed to
have had the time to ask during Obama`s 20-month election

Who is he? What are his bedrock
"emotional economics?"

Fortunately, the President published an
informative 460-page memoir in 1995,  Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Unfortunately, few have paid much
attention to what Obama has written about himself. The prose
style is too elliptical and the story too boring to pay it
careful attention.

That`s why I wrote my reader`s guide to
the President`s autobiography,

Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama`s
"Story of Race and
In this article adapted from my
book, I`ll explain what these dreams from his economist
father were.

Barack Jr. barely knew Barack Sr., who
abandoned his wife and toddler son
to obtain a Masters`
degree in economics from Harvard before returning to Kenya
to grab for

the brass ring of power

Instead, the son learned his father`s
ideology from his

still-smitten mother
(with some assistance from her
father Stanley, a failed salesman, but little from his
skeptical maternal

Madelyn, a

bank executive
). His mother`s indoctrination is the
reason Obama grew up to write a book named after the father
he barely knew.

It was in

, strangely enough, that
his white mother began to painstakingly instill in little
Barry Soetoro his biological father`s leftist politics of

This was his mother`s stratagem in her
passive-aggressive war on Lolo, her unsatisfactory Asian second husband. Ann, a romantic
leftist whose magnum opus was a 1,067-page anthropology
 Ph.D. dissertation
with the

title of

Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving and Thriving
against All Odds

 despised Lolo
 for dutifully
climbing the corporate ladder at an

American oil company
to support his wife and stepson:

"Sometimes I would overhear him and my mother arguing in their bedroom,
usually about her refusal to attend his company dinner
parties, where American businessmen from Texas and Louisiana
would slap Lolo

`s back and boast
about the palms they had greased to obtain the new offshore
drilling rights, while their wives complained to my mother
about the quality of Indonesian help. He would ask her how
it would look for him to go alone, and remind her that these
were her own people, and my mother`s voice would rise to
almost a shout.

are not my

Annoyed at seeing her talented son fall
increasingly under Lolo`s
kindly but irksomely pragmatic influence, Ann decided
that the perfect role model for Barack Jr. in learning
self-discipline would be Barack Sr.

"She had only one ally in all this, and that was the distant authority
of my father. Increasingly, she would remind me of his
story, how he had grown up poor, in a poor country, in a
poor continent … He had led his life according to principles
that demanded a different kind of toughness, principles that
promised a higher form of power

. I would follow his
example, my mother decided. I had no choice. It was in the

Over time, Ann`s strategy expanded to depicting the entire
black race as the
epitome of the virtues of self-discipline. Ann sounded
rather like

Obi-Wan Kenobi
instructing Luke
 in the glories of his
Jedi Knight heritage:

"To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special

, glorious burdens
that only we were strong enough to bear.”
[p. 51]

One implication of Ann`s line of thought is that the only explanation
for why blacks, these embodiments of
all the best values,
weren`t rich and happy was, as
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

would point out to Obama many years later, that
folks` greed runs a world in need."
All that blacks needed to lead them
to the wealth they deserved were audacious political leaders
who had achieved "a
higher form of power

," such as that
nation-building statesman Barack Obama Sr.

Even as an ethnic activist in Chicago
, the adult Obama still believed whole-heartedly in the
image concocted by his mother of his father (who, in
reality, had turned into an


"All my life, I had carried a single image of my father, one that I had
sometimes rebelled against but had never questioned, one
that I had later tried to take as my own. …It was into my
father`s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I`d
packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes




. … [M]y
father`s voice had nevertheless remained untainted,
inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval. You
do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your
people`s struggle. Wake up, black man!"
[p. 220]

Obama never quite got over his mother`s
programming that 1) Being a politician, especially a
politician who helps in his people`s struggle,
is the highest calling in life, far superior to being some
soulless corporate
 mercenary like her
second husband; and 2) What blacks
 need is not more
virtue, but better political leadership to achieve
"a higher form of


Or, in Obama`s case, the


Barack Obama Sr.
 was the father whose
dreams, as refracted through his mother`s urgings, have
guided the politician`s life. But what were those dreams?

Dreams from My Father
is a book about dreams and the
methods for realizing those dreams. It offers an extended
meditation on ends and means,
although not in the usual sense of questioning whether the
ends justify the means. Instead, Obama`s concern is whether
the means facilitate the ends. Obama displays few doubts
about the superior morality of his father`s putative goals,
as conveyed by his mother: namely, the pursuit of power
 for the benefit of
the black race. Racialism
 is simply a given to
the memoirist.

As an adult, Obama slowly learns the
hard truth: his father`s means had not been good enough.

In his subsequent life, the son,
displaying admirable self-discipline, has methodically
avoided exactly those things that thwarted his ambitious
father: drunkenness,

, boastfulness, imprudence, the

Big Man 
(excessive generosity to impress distant

 and hanger-ons
frankness, and marriage to white women.

We actually have a fairly good idea of
what Barack Sr., a scholar both brilliant (he graduated
summa cum laude
from the U. of Hawaii in three years) and boastful, likely
told Ann about politics and economics between the time he
impregnated her when she was a 17-year-old coed and the time
he left her when she was 20-year-old mother. Barack Sr.
published in July 1965 a
5,400-word article called "Problems
Facing Our Socialism
in the East
African Journal
, which was dug up in the UCLA library by
Greg Ransom




Barack Sr.`s first
appearance on the historical stage was this reply to a
famous paper by Tom Mboya, the pro-American Kenyan leader
who was second to Jomo Kenyatta in influence. Mboya had
advocated that the newly decolonized Kenya maintain an
economic policy that was non-Marxist and non-ideological,
with room for private enterprise, foreign investment, and
protection of the property rights of whites

 and Asians


Zaiki Laidi
 and Patricia Baudoin

 wrote in

The Superpowers and Africa


"The debates

 pitted the liberal
internationalist Mboya

 against endogenous
communitarian socialist Oginga Odinga

 and radical
economists Dharam Ghai and Barrack [sic] Obama, who
critiqued the document for being neither African nor
socialist enough."

In Obama Sr.`s view,
all of Mboya

`s errors were on
the side of too
little government control of the economy or too little
expropriation of non-blacks


Still, it`s possible
to exaggerate Obama Sr.

`s leftism
. He didn`t advocate
eradicating all private enterprise. His concern was less
with socialism

 v. capitalism

 than with blacks

 v. whites


. Indians dominated
small business in Kenya, and the elder Obama was not happy
about it.

"One need not to be Kenyan to note that most hotels and entertainment
places are owned by Asians and Europeans. One need not to be
Kenyan to note that when one goes to a good restaurant

 he mostly finds
Asians and Europeans …"

In his
characteristic peremptory tone, Obama Sr.

 denounced Mboya`s
proposed colorblind laws:

"How then can we say that we are going to be indiscriminate in
rectifying these imbalances? … The paper talks of fear of
retarding growth if nationalization

 or purchases of these
enterprises are made for Africans. But for whom do we want
to grow? Is this the African who owns his country? If he
does, then why should he not control the economic means of
growth in this country? It is mainly in this country one
finds almost everything owned by non-indigenous populace.
The government must do something about this and soon."

Yes, sir!

Obama Sr.
 didn`t seem to favor
Marxist outcomes for the sake of Marxism

, but because
government control of the economy was most convenient for
taking power

 and wealth from white
and Asian businesses and giving it to blacks

, especially to
blacks of Obama Sr.
`s tiny

 of foreign-educated
intellectuals. Thus, it might be more accurate to describe
Obama Sr.
ideology as "racial socialism
Like the more famous "national" variety of socialism

, Obama Sr.`s
version of socialism is less interested in ideology than in
Lenin`s old questions of


The apotheosis of
this line of thought is seen today in Robert Mugabe
economically desolate Zimbabwe.

In contrast to Obama
Jr.`s intentionally occluded prose style

, the confident tone
of Obama Sr.
`s 1965
paper is that of a bright young man sure that his target,
Mboya, who merely happens to be the second most powerful man
in Kenya, will of
appreciate 5,400 words of constructive criticism.
It`s touching that Obama Sr.

 had this much faith

 in his country to
utter such open and precise criticisms of his government`s
economic and racial programs. Obama Jr. has never shown that
faith in Americans.

In 1983, Obama
graduated from Columbia in New York City, with plans to

a black activis
t. First, though, he`d work for a year in
the private sector to save up. "Like
a spy behind enemy lines
," he takes a job with "a consulting house to multinational
But capitalist



"… as the months passed, I
felt the idea of becoming an

slipping away
from me. The company promoted me to the position of
financial writer. I had my own office, my own secretary,
money in the bank. Sometimes, coming out of an interview
bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the
elevator doors—see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in
my hand—and for a split second I would imagine myself as a
captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal,
before I remembered who it was that I had told myself I
wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve."
[p. 136]

In reality, even
though Wall Street

 was booming when
Obama graduated in 1983, he wound up in a job much crummier
than he makes it sound in
Dreams. He was
actually a copy editor at a scruffy, low-paying newsletter

Business International
. One of his co-workers, Dan Armstrong


blogged in 2005

"I`m a big fan of Barack
Obama … But after reading his
I have to say that Barack engages in some serious
exaggeration when he describes a job that he held in the
mid-1980s. I know because I sat down the hall from him, in
the same department, and worked closely with his boss. I
can`t say I was particularly close to Barack—he was reserved
and distant towards all of his co-workers—but I was probably
as close to him as anyone. I certainly know what he did
there, and it bears only a loose resemblance to what he
wrote in his book…..”

Armstrong, the former co-worker, went
on to

make a brilliant point
about Obama`s autobiography that
has eluded almost all professional pundits:

"All of Barack`s embellishment serves a larger narrative purpose: to
retell the
of the Christ`s temptation

. The young, idealistic, would-be community


 gets a nice suit,
joins a consulting house, starts hanging out with investment
bankers, and barely escapes moving into the big mansion with
the white folks. Luckily, an angel calls, awakens his
conscience, and helps him choose instead to

fight for the people

Why did Obama feel
"like a spy behind enemy lines" in his corporate


You have to
understand the leftism

 inculcated in him by
his mother. In Chicago

, a few years later,
Obama tries to work out why the blacks

 in the Altgeld

 Village housing
project seem so much

poorer morally
than the

economically poorer people
he had known in Indonesia

. Obama`s conclusion
in 1995 was straight out of his mother`s playbook: global

 hadn`t chewed the
Indonesians up and spat them out … yet. To demonstrate the
influence of his mother`s economics

 on his thinking, I`ll
have to quote another sizable slab of Obama`s prose,
engineered as usual to resist being quoted:

"I tried to imagine the
Indonesian workers who were now making their way to the
sorts of factories that had once sat along the banks of the
Calumet River, joining the ranks of wage labor to assemble
the radios and sneakers that sold on Michigan Avenue. I
imagined those same Indonesian workers ten, twenty years
from now, when their factories would have closed down, a
consequence of new technology or lower wages in some other
part of the globe. And then the bitter discovery that their
markets have vanished; that they no longer remember how to
weave their own baskets or carve their own furniture or grow
their own food; that even if they remember such craft, the
forests that gave them wood are now owned by timber
interests … The very existence of the factories, the timber
interests, the plastics manufacturer, will have rendered
their culture obsolete; … Some of them would prosper in this
new order. Some would move to America. And the others, the
millions left behind in Djakarta, or Lagos, or the West
Bank, they would settle into their own Altgeld

 Gardens, into a
deeper despair."
[pp. 183-184]

On the campaign
trail, Obama`s more plain-spoken wife, Michelle,

 made clear the
Obamas` anti-business attitudes:

left corporate

which is a lot of what we are asking young people to do.
Don`t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers,
work for the community

, be a social worker,
be a nurse …. move out of the money-making industry, into
the helping industry."

In Chicago, Obama
was an interested observer of black separatists` calls for
black capitalism.

On p. 200 of
Dreams, Obama
concedes the morality of the black nationalist case … in

"If [black] nationalism could create a strong and effective insularity,
deliver on its promise of self-respect, then the hurt it
might cause well-meaning whites

, or the inner
turmoil it caused people like me, would be of little
[p. 200]

Fortunately for the
biracial and white-raised Obama and his ambitions for a
career as a black leader

, black separatism
turns out to be a non-starter, economically and politically:

"If nationalism could deliver. As it turned out, questions of
effectiveness, and not sentiment, caused most of my
quarrels with Rafiq
." [p. 200]

dispassionately rejects Black Nationalism as impractical.

In the 1980s, Obama
studies Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan
newspaper (just as in 1995 he

flew to Washington
to attend Farrakhan`s Million Man
March); over time, he notices that Farrakhan

`s Black Capitalist
strategy isn`t working.

The Final Call

 is full of

"… promotions for a line of toiletries—toothpaste

 and the like—that the
Nation had launched under the brand name POWER, part of a
strategy to encourage blacks

 to keep their money
within their own community

. After a time, the
ads for POWER products grew less prominent in
The Final Call

; it seems that many who enjoyed Minister Farrakhan`s
speeches continued to brush their teeth with Crest."

[p. 201]

Obama has some fun
imagining the frustrations of POWER`s product manager in
trying to make and market a blacks

-only toothpaste
: "And what of
the likelihood that the cheapest supplier of whatever it was
that went into making toothpaste was a white man?"

The basic social
problem that both Farrakhan

 and Obama want to
alleviate is that, on average, blacks

 have less money than

. Farrakhan`s plan
to create a separate black-only capitalist

 economy in which
blacks could not be cheated by whites out of the hard-earned
wealth they would create is doubtful on various grounds. And
even if it were plausible, it would require generations of
hard work in dreary fields such as toothpaste


In contrast, Obama`s
plan to get more money for blacks

 from whites

 by further enlarging
the already enormous welfare

 / social work /

 charity / government
/ industrial complex is both more feasible in the short run,
and, personally, more fun for someone of Obama`s tastes than
making toothpaste would be

. Obama`s chosen
path involves organizing rallies, holding meetings, writing
books, attending fundraising galas, giving orations, and
winning elections. In these endeavors, insulting whites in
the Black Muslim

 manner is
counter-productive, because whites will have to pay most of
the bills.

(This raises a
question that never really seems to come up in
Dreams. Would blacks

 getting a bigger
slice of the pie through more effective political leadership
be bad for whites

? Obama vaguely
gestures a few times in the direction of his dreams from his
father being somehow also good for whites, but it`s usually
in a character-building, time-to-cut-your-cholesterol way.)

In sharp contrast to
the financial failure of Farrakhan
`s black

, Obama followed a
path of multicultural leftism

 lavishly funded by

. In 1995, he was
appointed chairman of the board of the

Chicago Annenberg Challenge
Dreamed up in part by unrepentant leftwing terrorist

, the CAC gave away $50 million or so of

Walter Annenberg`s
arch-Republican money to "community organizations"
in the name of improving public schools. It didn`t do
anything for student test scores, but all those handouts
made Obama a glamorous brand name among his political base:
social workers and activists.

The climax of
Dreams from My Father
is Obama`s first trip to Kenya

 in 1988, between his
community organizing gig and Harvard Law School
. The
trip got off to an angry start, what with all the white
people he kept running into.

Initially, he
stopped off for his three-week tour of the wonders of Europe
that left him psychologically devastated:

"And by the end of the first week or so, I realized that I`d made a
mistake. It wasn`t that Europe wasn`t beautiful; everything
was just as I`d imagined it. It just wasn`t mine."

[pp. 301-302]

Upon arrival, Obama
tours Nairobi

 with his half-sister

. At the restaurant

 of the ritzy

New Stanley Hotel
Obama experiences the same outrage as his father had 23
years before, when he complained in his

, "when
one goes to a good restaurant he mostly finds Asians

 and Europeans …"
The son is annoyed that Kenya`s best restaurants are
infested with white tourists:

"They were everywhere—Germans, Japanese
, British
, Americans … In

, when we were still
kids, my friends and I had laughed at tourists

 like these, with
their sunburns and their pale, skinny legs, basking in the
glow of our obvious superiority. Here in Africa, though, the
tourists didn`t seem so funny. I felt them as an
encroachment, somehow; I found their innocence vaguely
insulting. It occurred to me that in their utter lack of
self-consciousness, they were expressing a freedom that
neither Auma

 nor I could ever
experience, a bedrock confidence in their own parochialism,
a confidence reserved for those born into imperial cultures."
[p. 312]

Obama and his sister
are outraged when the black waiter gives

quicker service
to the white Americans sitting nearby.


why Kenya

, no matter what its
GNP, no matter how many things you can buy here, the rest of
Africa laughs. It`s the whore of Africa, Barack. It opens
its legs to anyone who can pay."

Obama reflects on
his half-sister`s outburst:

"I suspected she was right … Did our waiter know that black rule had
come? Did it mean anything to him? Maybe once, I thought to
myself. He would be old enough to remember independence, the
shouts of "Uhuru
!" and the raising of new flags. But such memories may seem almost
fantastic to him now, distant and naive. He`s learned that
the same people who controlled the land before independence
still control the same land … And if you say to him that
he`s serving the interests of neocolonialism

 or some other such
thing, he will reply that yes, he will serve if that is
what`s required. It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky
ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many
will drown."
[pp. 314-315]

 couldn`t have put
it better himself.

One subtle but
telling difference between the views of Obama Sr.

 and Obama Jr. is that

 play a realistically
large role in the father`s feelings of envy. In contrast,
the younger Obama`s

is simplistically black and white. In
Dreams` conceptual
framework, there are only three races: Black, White, and
Miscellaneous. Despite all the years Obama spends in

 and in heavily Asian

, Asians

 just don`t play much
of a role in Obama`s turbulent emotions. He doesn`t take
Asians personally, whereas everything about blacks

 and whites

 prods his most
sensitive sores.

His half-sister
Auma, on the other hand, has inherited Barack Sr.`s
touchiness about Asians. She is incensed by both Nairobi

`s prosperous white

 and its prosperous

Indian shopkeeper

“`You see how arrogant they are?` she had whispered as we watched a
young Indian

 woman order her black
clerks to and fro. `They call themselves Kenyans, but they
want nothing to do with us. As soon as they make their
money, they send it off to London or Bombay. `”
[p. 347]

While Obama Jr.
agreed with Auma

`s diatribe against

, he lectures her on
her anti-Indian


"Her attitude had touched a nerve.`How can you blame Asians

 for sending their
money out of the country,` I had asked her, `after what



?` I had gone on to
tell her about the close Indian

 and Pakistani

 friends I had back in
the States, friends who had supported black causes …."

[p. 347]

He thinks about it
further and decides that blacks

 and Asians

 are all just victims
of The [White] Man behind the curtain:

"Here, persons of Indian

 extraction were like

Chinese in

, the

in the South Side

 of Chicago

, outsiders who knew
how to trade and kept to themselves, working the margins of
a racial caste system, more visible and so more vulnerable
to resentment. "
[p. 348]

Obama later learns
that his half-sister Auma, who teaches German at the

 is trying to make
something of herself, but her efforts to conserve her time
and money for future investments elicit from her African kin

"… looks of unspoken hurt, barely distinguishable from resentment … Her
restlessness, her independence, her constant willingness to
project into the future—all of this struck the family as
unnatural somehow. Unnatural…and un-African. It was the same
dilemma … that certain children in Altgeld

 might suffer if they
took too much pleasure in doing their schoolwork … "

For Obama,
conveniently enough, there`s always
one solution to
any of the basic human conundrums: political power

 for his racial group.

"Without power

 for the group, a
group larger, even, than an extended family, our success
always threatened to leave others behind.”
[p. 330]

All this is not to say that Obama
hasn`t changed his attitude toward economics (or race) since
he published his autobiography in 1995.

Perhaps he has. In 2000, his dream of
eventually winning the most powerful office in America
plausibly attainable by a black leader
qua black leader—Mayor
of Chicago
—was crushed when black voters rejected Obama
in his primary challenge to

Rep. Bobby Rush
, a former Black Panther. Obama just
wasn`t black enough to beat a more authentic black for the
hearts of black voters. When he recovered psychologically
after a year of mourning, he restyled himself as a black
candidate who appeals to whites.

Maybe, deep down, Obama has changed his
mind. Nobody, however, seems to have asked him.

In his 2004 Preface to the reissue of
Dreams, the older Obama himself denies that he has gained much
wisdom in subsequent years:

"I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not
mine—that I would tell the story much differently today than
I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to
be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary
and opposition research. "

This is a bad outlook for the American

My reader`s guide to the President`s
Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama`s
"Story of Race and
is now on sale.

[Steve iler (email
him) is

movie critic

The American Conservative

His website

features his daily blog. His new book,