Barack Hussein Machiavelli

By no means is Obama the first president to speak in effectual truths. But he may be the first one who’s been speaking in effectual truths since before he had an obvious political reason to do so. The president’s biographer, David Maraniss, revealed last year that there were more composite characters and invented scenes in Dreams from My Father (1995) than Obama has ever let on. The future president embellished his life to give intensity and significance to his experience of race. He created an effectual truth in order to dramatize his psychological relation to his black identity. There was no immediate electoral necessity for him to do so (though there may have been a financial one—who would want to return a book advance?). Still, Obama may have crafted his tale of racial self-discovery with an eye toward future battles in electoral politics in Chicago. Political considerations certainly played a part in his alliance with Reverend Jeremiah Wright—an alliance he dropped at the first sign of trouble in 2008 by telling the effectual truth that he hadn’t been aware of Wright’s hateful rhetoric and ideas.

“Honest administrations are all alike, but each dishonest administration is dishonest in its own way,” Michael Kinsley wrote in 2002. “Actually, there are no honest administrations. But each presidency does bring its own unique style to the task of deceiving the citizenry. And at least you can derive some truths about a president from the way he chooses to lie to you.”