Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ghosts of Marxist Christmas Past: Why Didn’t David Maraniss Call Me Regarding Young Obama’s 1980 Road Trip to San Francisco?


John Drew with Caroline Boss
in June 1981.
 I met the young Obama over 32 years ago while I was visiting Caroline Boss, an undergraduate at Occidental College, at her home in northern California, over the Christmas break in 1980. I had met Boss in the spring of 1979 and maintained a relationship with her up until her graduation from Occidental College in 1981. She had met the young Obama in early 1980. She knew him well because she had been in two classes with him by the time she introduced him to me along with his friend, Hasan Chandoo. As evidence of my relationship with Boss I have a number of her old cards and letters still laying around along with a photo of us together in 1981, a photo which was taken in the yard of my parents’ house in Newhall, CA.

In a story first released in February 2010, I shared my face to face account of how I later confronted young Obama’s naïve faith in an inevitable Communist revolution during a heated debate at the Boss’s home in Portola Valley, CA. This small but significant memory remains as a powerful bit of evidence that the young Obama was not always committed to the pragmatic centrism that President Obama claims as his long-standing, guiding philosophy.

Luckily for historians, Maraniss new book, Barack Obama: The Story, supports my account of young Obama’s general whereabouts during Christmas 1980, but unfortunately Maraniss distorts the specifics both, I suspect, to protect Obama and potentially to discredit me.

To put Maraniss’s new information into its correct perspective, I need to share that Maraniss reports that young Obama was in San Francisco over Christmas break in 1980 only to tell a larger story of how young Obama first meet Sohale Siddiqi, the Pakistani who later became Obama’s Columbia University roommate. “During the Christmas break that year,” writes Maraniss, “Sohale Siddiqi, a friend of Hasan’s and Wahid’s who lived in New York, came out to visit.”

In Maraniss’s book, Siddiqi is the recipient of some minor good fortune during his trip out west since he is able to use young Obama’s empty room in Pasadena during Obama’s absence.

“There was a room available at the apartment in Pasadena,” Maraniss writes, “Obama had left on a road trip and ended up in San Francisco. On the night of December 31, Hasan and Sohale and some buddies drove up to San Francisco for a New Year’s Eve party, and it was there that Siddiqi encountered Chandoo’s roommate for the first time.” (See, Maraniss, 2012, p. 367.)

What is highly inaccurate about Maraniss’s account - from my perspective - is that I met with both young Obama and his roommate Chandoo while I was staying at Caroline Boss’s northern California home. I would have been happy to verify that fact for Maraniss if he had interviewed me. As I recall, the debate with Obama and his friends ended, in part, because both Obama and Chandoo needed to leave to meet up with some other people. I do not recall the exact details of where Obama and Chandoo were heading later on after visiting with me and Boss.

If Maraniss’s was working to minimize public attention regarding my comments on young Obama’s extremist ideology, then Maraniss’s efforts to disconfirm my story were probably thwarted by new information from his interview with Sohale Siddiqi. Whether Siddiqi appreciated the gravity of his observation or not, Siddiqi’s comments inadvertently confirmed my earlier report that young Obama was in Portola Valley, CA sometime after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.

Maraniss’s decision to suggest that Obama and Chandoo were travelling separately leads to some bizarre and implausible events regarding the pair’s return to the Los Angeles area. Specifically, Maraniss writes that the very next morning - New Year’s Day, 1981 - Obama joined Chandoo, Siddiqi and at least two other individuals for the drive back to Los Angeles. Whether or not this was Maraniss’s intention, his report on Obama’s lonely road trip has the impact of making it harder for me to have debated with both Obama and Chandoo at Boss’s home in Portola Valley.

Given the great distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco, however, I think most readers of Maraniss’s book will find it highly implausible to imagine that anyone would to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco for a one night party and then drive all the way back to Los Angeles on the very next day.

For now, my best theory is that Maraniss knows all about me and that the last thing he wanted to do was to verify my story that young Obama was in the San Francisco area over Christmas break 1980. Maraniss, for what it is worth, knows me well enough to have blocked me as one of his Twitter followers.

Given Siddiqi’s comments, however, there was no way Maraniss could leave this important, historically significant detail out of his book. To lessen the damage, in my theory, Maraniss separated Obama and Chandoo as travelling companions and sought to make my story appear less than completely accurate – even as he confirmed one of my story’s most highly significant and unusual facts.

So far, my take on young Obama’s ideological extremism has appeared in at least five books by serious authors including Stanley Kurtz’s well-researched Radical-In-Chief. It seems odd to me that Maraniss did interview me for his book. My theory, of course, is that it is easier to get President Obama to talk with you if you promise to leave out the parts of Obama’s story that are most connected to my face-to-face knowledge of young Obama’s Marxist-Leninist perspective.


John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

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