Back in the 1950s, when televisions with picture tubes and huge consoles with small screens were the norm, there was a popular show called "To Tell the Truth." The premise was four panelists would question three contestants, and at the end of the questioning the host would say, "Will the real (fill-in-blank) please stand up." Sometimes the panelists were completely stumped (Rosa Parks pulled that off in 1975) and sometimes they weren't. Much, of course, depended on what each panelist looked for in search of clues. "Are you famous or well known?" was a frequent question. "For what?" was a logical follow-up. Can Barack Obama "tell the truth?" If he has the answer, will he reveal himself to America?
There seemingly are three Barack Hussein Obamas. Barack II lived unknown to America and himself, largely, until the mid-1990s — when he finished (inhaling and) exhaling his life's story in "Dreams From My Father." He then jumped into politics.
America finally met Barack Obama in 2004. It was keynote time at the Democratic Convention, and this marvelously handsome, gifted speaker took the microphone and told us a wonderful American story.
His wasn't a fairy tale. It was a story about how a Kenyan met an American white woman while in college, married, and had a son whom they named Barack Hussein Obama II. The briefest version of his biography is that Barack II was reared by his mom and her family, graduated from Columbia and Harvard, became an Illinois state lawmaker, and in 2003 announced that he wanted to become a member of the Club of 100. Barack II introduced himself to America in 2004 and in January 2005 became a U.S. senator. Now, three years and eight months later, there is a possibility Barack II will become president of the United States.
That's an incredible story. Only in America.
No revolution or coup. No scandalous Watergate. No death or assassination. No impeachment.
Just good old American democracy and a bedrock that says anyone born in America and of a certain age can apply for the job to be president.
Voters have responded, and quite kindly. When Iowans caucused and Barack II emerged victorious, millions took notice. "Who is Barack Obama?" "Where did he come from?" "How did he get here so fast?"
Barack II has yet to answer those questions.
The other caucuses and primaries came and went. Nobody warned Hillary Rodham Clinton against looking backward because Barack II was definitely gaining on her. He snuck up on Mrs. Clinton the same way he snuck up on America, and before America knew it, Barack II was neck-and-neck with John McCain, a veteran of the Club of 100. And America is still asking, "Who is Barack Obama?"
To tell the truth, we do not know who Barack Obama is. Indeed, many an American wonders if Barack Obama is merely the man who introduced himself in 2004. A man of great oratory, and a wonderful husband and father. But what else?
There is something that gnaws. Something that has nothing to do with faith or race, age or experience. There's simply something that Barack Obama has yet to reveal.
Oh, there are some things we know about him. There are lots of things we know about him. But the Obama campaign doesn't seem to get the one key factor that would define Barack II in the waning weeks of the general election. And that is this: Barack Obama is running against himself.
What's that, you say? Isn't Mr. McCain his chief opponent? Well, politically speaking, yes Mr. McCain is. The problem is that Barack Obama has had to define, refine and redefine himself as he goes along.
There is the Barack II who grew up without his dad, partied as if there was no tomorrow in college and then (sort of) found his way in Chicago. Then there is the Barack II who fell in love and married, and had two living dolls, got a well-paying job and entered politics. But then that word "change" comes into considerable play.
The picture of the Barack Obama that America has cheered and jeered since that 2004 speech isn't crystal clear.
His Christianity was questioned. His racial identity was questioned. His politics were bruised during primary season. He barely escaped the wrath of women scorned (or has he?). Now that he has scored his party's nomination — and Barack II has come to represent all things Democratic against all things Republican — Americans are yet again demanding that the real Barack Hussein Obama II please stand up.
The horse race proves the neck-and-neck race with a so-called maverick. But what precisely is Mr. Obama?
America cannot wait until Nov. 4 to get its answers.