They say Obama did not play the singular role in the asbestos episode that he portrays in the best-selling memoir "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Credit for pushing officials to deal with the cancer-causing substance, according to interviews and news accounts from that period, also goes to a well-known preexisting group at Altgeld Gardens and to a local newspaper called the Chicago Reporter. Obama does not mention either one in his book.A prominent political activist I know told me that community organizers he knew here in Chicago had never heard of Barack Obama before he ran for political office.
..."Just because someone writes it doesn't make it true," said longtime Altgeld resident Hazel Johnson, who worked with Obama on the asbestos campaign and had been pushing for a variety of environmental cleanups years before he arrived.
But "Dreams From My Father," the first of Obama's books, is not a historical account. In it, Obama uses literary techniques that are rarely found in political memoirs.Hmmmm...no wonder the details around his first political campaign against Alice Palmer are so fuzzy. The guy disremembers the folks that cloud the minty fresh image.
Dialogue in the memoir is an "approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me," Obama wrote in its introduction. For the sake of compression, he wrote, some characters are "composites of people I've known, and some events appear out of precise chronology." Most names in the book were changed for the sake of privacy, he wrote.
And though most memoirs place their authors at the center of events, critics of "Dreams From My Father" say the book unfairly omits others responsible for the successes of the asbestos campaign, an event that Obama portrays as central to his maturation as a political leader. For example, Johnson is not mentioned, and no character in the book appears to resemble her, even though she was already a prominent Altgeld activist and her presence in the anti-asbestos effort is confirmed by interviews and news accounts at the time.
Last night at the University of Chicago, in a "conversation" with Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, political science professor, Michael Dawson, raised a little known fact that Obama displaced Alice Palmer, a sitting black state senator, who was farther to the left of Obama, politically. Dawson also reminded the audience that the DLC, with which Obama is closely associated, is one of the most conservative elements within the Democratic Party.
Alice Palmer was a popular and effective legislator, and would have retained her seat had Obama not challenged her nominating petitions.
Why did Obama go after an office held by an effective, progressive, black incumbent, not once, but twice? (see Bobby Rush)
UPDATE: Sorry to say that my chronology is wrong in this post concerning Alice Palmer and the Second Congressional District primary in Chicago held in 1995. While the special election, which was won by Jesse Jackson, Jr., was held on Dec. 12, 1995, the primary election for that seat was held Nov. 28, 1995. So Alice Palmer did, in fact, lose that primary race and then, with a lot of urging from friends, colleagues, and party leaders, she decided to hold on to her seat and run for reelection.