Obama's Ex-Girlfriend Reveals He's 'Charming,' Yet 'Distant' in New Book

Yesterday, Vanity Fair published excerpts from David Maraniss’ new book, Barack Obama: The Story. The book will be published next month. These excerpts contain parts of Obama’s ex-girlfriend’s diary, in which she describes many intimate moments with the President.

Obama met his ex-girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, at a Christmas part in 1983. He was 22 years old. As she has written in his journal she found him, "charming and alluring, and yes distant and unreachable." As Peter Baker wrote for the New York Times, "Her observations of Obama and his cool demeanor seemed to foreshadow the public persona that would and attract and confound many political supporters." Cook's characterization can be equated with the same feelings that same Obama voters feel, and with the impresions that many diplomats have of him. 

“The sexual warmth is definitely there – but the rest of it has sharp edges, and I’m finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all,” writes Cook in her diary. 

After Obama’s election in 2008, many European politicians were enchanted by his spirit, the way he conducted politics, his nearness to the people, and how he was desired by the masses. However, after his first presidential trip to Europe, many were disenchanted. There was a quite harsh op-ed from Elsevier in The Netherlands, that read: 

“Obama let it be known that the U.S. wants to lead, and that the rest of the world should ‘join us with a sense of urgency’ to end the economic crisis by taking complementary measures. At a minimum, that gives the impression that the rest of the world is responsible for helping him end the American economic crisis. …” 

Obama was much criticized for pressuring Europe to adopt additional stimulus measures. It was seen as ignorance from the American side to expect Europe to solicit financial advice from the U.S., keeping in mind the U.S.’s public debt and spending record.

Later on in her diary, Cook writes: “I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Though he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness — and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me.” 

Similar words came from the pen of Alfred Defrago, former Swiss ambassador to the U.S. Defrago wrote in his book that the relationship between the U.S. and Europe is in decline. Moreover, he referred to Obama’s approval rating and said that he was the candidate of hope and promise, and that he generated a lot of high expectations but had problems meeting them. 

Defrago wrote, "Europeans are fascinated with Obama's career because it couldn't happen in most European countries." That said, disillusionment came quickly after his visit. Like Cook, the Europeans felt Obama's warmth and trusted his sweet words — but when it came down to business they were less than pleased. Obama presents his views as the only feasible and logical ones; "coolness" as Cook would say. The European leaders did not like that very much.

The Guardian recently published an article saying that if anyone wants to embarrass Obama, the most logical means of attack would be to poke fun at his pretentiousness. They then cite a letter a 22-year-old Obama wrote to another former girlfriend, Alex McNear: 

"… the dichotomy [that TS Eliot] maintains is reactionary, but it's due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance ... And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter – life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot's irreconcilable ambivalence; don't you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?” 

Obama’s pretentiousness is clear; personally I need a bucket close by in order to re-read that quotation.

On Thursday, January 26, 1984, Cook’s journal reads: "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. “

Later, on Thursday, March 22nd she continues with the words: "Barack—still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled. “ 

However, those are the qualities that a real diplomat and statesman must possess. He is warm, yet distant, open; yet controlled, in one word – intriguing. These excerpts from her journal put an emphasis on the complexities of Obama's character. They also show what it looks like to go through the process of maturation, in order to become a true stateman. And there, you might face relationships that must be sacrificed at the altar of success. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Marko Ceperkovic

As Policy Advisor at the U.S. House of Representatives Marko is dealing with Foreign Affairs, Defense, Immigration and Human Rights issues. At the same time he is a fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, participating in the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government. Before coming to Washington, Marko lived in France, studying at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. As former Executive Director's Assistant at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights he led Human Rights Schools for Western Balkans, while at the same time presiding over the Commission for Youth Rights in Serbia.

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