Poking holes in Obama lore: A new biography on the president’s life

Jake Tapper, Richard Coolidge & Sherisse Pham
Power Players

Political Punch

A new biography of President Obama pokes holes in the president's own memoir. David Maraniss's "Barack Obama: The Story" takes readers on an international journey through Indonesia, Kansas, Hawaii, Chicago -- the meandering path that shaped Obama before he landed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"The moment that overwhelmed me was actually in Indonesia, in Jakarta," said Maraniss, where 7-year-old Obama -- then called Barry Soetoro, taking the name of his stepfather -- lived. Obama, said Maraniss, didn't know the language, and wasn't a rich kid going to the international school. He was one of the neighborhood kids at the neighborhood school.

"When I was there, in those alleys, and thinking about that Barry Soetoro becoming President Obama, that was kind of uh, an amazing moment," Maraniss said.

The president does not show up in Maraniss 's book until chapter seven -- the first six are spent following stories from Kansas and Kenya that result in the creation of Barack Obama. The president was especially close to his maternal grandmother, Madelyne Dunham.

"When I interviewed the president for this book we talked a lot about Madelyne and he's a fan of "Mad Men" the TV show, and he said Madelyne is Peggy. She started as a secretary and then became vice president of a bank," said Maraniss.

"You know if anybody's wondering, 'How did Obama pay for college?' and so on, grandmother Madelyne really paid for a lot of that. She was hardworking and invested almost her whole life into her grandson."

Dunham passed away the day before her grandson was elected President of the United States. He spoke emotionally about her death at an appearance in North Carolina, tears rolling down his face as he remembered the woman who was so important to him.

"The interesting thing there is, she was not an emotional person. She did not hug Barry and say I love you," said Maraniss. "She wasn't that kind, but she was very dependable. And he really, she was the only rock in his life."

Some of the things the president did in his youth could be stored as ammunition by his current political adversaries. Obama already acknowledges the fact that he was something of a pot head in high school, but Maraniss's book provides a lot more details.

"Barry Obama was talking about TA which meant total absorption, he had inhaled the whole car full of, of marijuana," said Maraniss. Picture Spicolli from the 1980s classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" tumbling out of a van chock full of smoke.

"That's pretty much it, yes, that was the 'choom gang' and their 'choom wagon,'" Maraniss said, laughing.

For more on the story of Barack Obama, check out this week's Power Players.