When Barack Obama was a 20 year old Columbia University student he did normal things that young people do, including dating before meeting his wife Michelle Obama. Two of President Obama’s ex-girlfriends are profiled in the forthcoming book Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss. Excerpts from Maraniss’ book were published in Vanity Fair, including the letters to ex-girlfriend Alex McNear private journal entries of another ex-girlfriend Genevieve Cook.
Some of the excerpts published by Vanity Fair from Cook’s journal entries where she shared her observations about a 22 year old Barack Obama include how he seemed old beyond his years, his tenderness, and his sexual warmth. What’s also pretty apparent through these observations is that President Obama in his discovery for personal and racial identity remains an enigma.
“How is he so old already, at the age of 22? I have to recognize (despite play of wry and mocking smile on lips) that I find his thereness very threatening…. Distance, distance, distance, and wariness,” wrote a young Genevieve Cook. Her observation of the president’s “thereness” isn’t much a surprise for people who have read President Obama’s memoirs or have read a lot of about the president’s mother Ann Dunham. President Obama’s travels as a young man as well as his lack of a relationship with his father create a need for the president to not only be more mature than his age required, but also call for a level of self-reflection and seriousness that Cook seems unable to understand.
Another entry describes Obama’s “poker face” which we all became very familiar with a year ago when the president gave the order to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and yet proceeded to go on with the business of the executive without giving us a clue as to what was going on behind the scenes. His ability to turn it on at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner is surely a moment when the president was able to employ his practiced “poker face” and “veil” to protect vital national security secrets until the mission was over.
Of this Cook writes, “without giving too much of your own away—played with a good poker face. And as you say, it’s not a question of intent on your part—or deliberate withholding—you feel accessible, and you are, in disarming ways. But I feel that you carefully filter everything in your mind and heart—legitimate, admirable, really—a strength, a necessity in terms of some kind of integrity. But there’s something also there of smoothed veneer, of guardedness … but I’m still left with this feeling of … a bit of a wall—the veil.” A veil is practiced. President Obama through years of being many things to many different people at different stages of his life has a lot of practice in not giving too much away.
When Cook writes, “Barack—still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled,” much of this rings true today and illustrate qualities in the president that are suitable to his job.
A young Obama grappled with his racial identity as well as the race of his ideal woman, and of this Cook writes, “I can’t help thinking that what he would really want, be powerfully drawn to, was a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced—a black woman I keep seeing her as.” This little detail is certainly significant as in 2012, we all know that Obama’s future mate would be drawn to a “very strong” Black woman who was a “fighter” which he would find in First Lady Michelle Obama.
One thing is for sure, President Obama is still intriguing. It’s common knowledge that Barack Obama had interracial relationships before meeting and marrying First Lady Michelle Obama, so the only real ‘news’ here seems to be a bit of a violation into this very public man’s tender private past. While conservative outlets mistakenly reported that the president fabricated his accounts of his past relationships in his memoir Dreams From My Father, it seems that in this reality show culture every aspect of a public figures life is fair game including the secret journals of a college girlfriend.
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and soon-to-be attorney. You can follow her on Twitter: @ZerlinaMaxwell