It used to be a lot simpler. As E. C. Bentley deftly summarized it in 1905:
Geography is about maps
But Biography is about chaps.
But that was then, and now Biography is also about maps. For example, have you ever thought it would be way cooler to have been born in colonial Kenya?
Whoa, that sounds like crazy Birther talk; don’t go there! But Breitbart News did, and it turns out that the earliest recorded example of Birtherism is from the president’s own literary agent, way back in 1991, in the official bio of her exciting new author: “Barack Obama, the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”
So the lunatic theory that Barack Obama doesn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to be president of the United States was first advanced by Barack Obama’s official representative. Where did she get that wacky idea from? “This was nothing more than a fact-checking error by me,” says Obama’s literary agent Miriam Goderich, a “fact” that went so un-“checked” that it stayed up on her agency’s website in the official biography of her by-then-famous client up until 2007: “He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister.”
And then in April 2007, someone belatedly decided to “check” the 16-year-old “fact” and revised the biography, a few weeks into the now non-Kenyan’s campaign for the presidency. Fancy that!
When it comes to conspiracies, I’m an Occam’s Razor man. The more obvious explanation of the variable first line in the eternally shifting sands of Obama’s biography is that, rather than pretending to have been born in Hawaii, he’s spent much of his life pretending to have been born in Kenya. After all, if your first book is an exploration of racial identity and has the working title “Journeys in Black and White,” being born in Hawaii doesn’t really help. It’s entirely irrelevant to the twin pillars of contemporary black grievance — American slavery and European imperialism. To 99.99 percent of people, Hawaii is a luxury-vacation destination and nothing else. Whereas Kenya puts you at the heart of what, in an otherwise notably orderly decolonization process by the British, was a bitter and violent struggle against the white man’s rule. Cool! The composite chicks dig it, and the literary agents.
And where’s the harm in it? Everybody does it — at least in the circles in which Obama hangs. At Harvard Law School, where young Barack was “the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review,” there’s no end of famous firsts: As The Fordham Law Review reported, “Harvard Law School hired its first woman of color, Elizabeth Warren, in 1995.” There is no evidence that Mrs. Warren, now the Democrats’ Senate candidate, is anything other than 100 percent white. She walks like a white, quacks like a white, looks whiter than white. She’s the whitest white since Frosty the Snowman fell in a vat of Wite-Out. But she “self-identified” as Cherokee, so that makes her a “woman of color.” Why, back in 1984 she submitted some of her favorite dishes to the Pow Wow Chow cookbook, a “compilation of recipes passed down through the Five Tribes families.”
The recipes from “Elizabeth Warren — Cherokee” include a crab dish with tomato mayonnaise. Mrs. Warren’s fictional Cherokee ancestors in Oklahoma were renowned for their ability to spear the fast-moving Oklahoma crab. It’s in the state song: “Ooooooklahoma! Where the crabs come sweepin’ down the plain . . . ” But then the white man came and now the Oklahoma crab is extinct, and at the Cherokee clambakes they have to make do with Mrs. Warren’s traditional Five Tribes recipe for Cherokee Lime Pie.