By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
This post was motivated by “The Obama Factor“, a long and rambling Q&A between Pulitzer-winning historian and Obama biographer David Garrow, and David Samuels, the Tablet’s Literary Editor. Garrow and Samuels answer the question posed in the headline in the affirmative; basically, “quite possibly, yes.” Spoiler: By Betteridge’s Law, my answer is “No,” but with significant qualifications.
Most of the reactions to “The Obama Factor” — which focuses primarily on the irresistible rise of a fabulist creep who had written not one but two autobiographies by the age of 47, both in election years — have focused on Obama’s sensational fantasy life. In fact, I can only find serious reaction pieces from FOX and the New York Post; nothing from the other side of the aisle at all, and since the piece has been out for two weeks, I assume there won’t be (and if it were easy, the takedowns and the dogpiling would already have happened). Nobody seems to have focused on the most provocative part of “The Obama Factor”: Why Obama remained in Washington, DC, bought a mansion, and what he’s been doing with his time there. In this post, I will take a first cut at explaining that.
I will first look at Obama’s neighborhood: Kalorama. Then I will look at his mansion, and what he is known to have done there. I will then present a great slab of Garrow and Samuels, who present the thesis that Obama is running a shadow government long form. I will conclude by briefly critiquing that thesis.
The Neighborhood: Kalorama
Here is a map of Kalorama:
From Washington Socialist:
As locals will remind you, Kalorama comprises two separate neighborhoods: Kalorama Heights (also known as Sheridan-Kalorama) and, to its northeast, Kalorama Triangle.
The Obamas live to the Northeast, in the Kalorama Triangle. Kalorama has always been full of rich people:
Kalorama emerged relatively late as central DC neighborhoods went and was not extensively developed until the very end of the 19th century. It quickly attracted the wealthy and well-connected who built or purchased lavish mansions or fashionable rowhouses.
But now Kalorama is full of nouveaux riche as well. From Trulia, “The Real Estate Voyeur’s Guide to Kalorama Heights, Washington D.C.’s Most Bipartisan Neighborhood“:
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Kalorama, Washington D.C.—a small and tranquil neighborhood located northwest of Dupont Circle—suddenly transformed into the epicenter of wealthy and political elites in D.C. First former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle announced they were moving into an 8,200 square-foot home in the area (which they’ve confirmed they are buying). Next, Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos purchased a $23 million Kalorama house—the largest private home in the entire city. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson purchased a $5.5 million property. And most recently—and prominently—current First Family members Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner began renting a 6,870 square-foot property in the neighborhood.
(Bezos is the dude with twenty-five bathrooms; Jared and Ivanka are already fighting with the neighbors.)
Kalorama is also full of embassies. From the Washington Diplomat:
[There are] 28 embassies in Washington’s well-heeled Kalorama neighborhood…. Embassies there include Algeria, Belize, Estonia, Greece, Japan, Latvia, Slovenia, Turkey, Madagascar, Mali and Syria. A variety of ambassador residences also call the tony neighborhood home — among them Afghanistan, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Mostly, it’s simply a friendly neighborhood, European Union Ambassador David O’Sullivan said. The European Union has had a residence in Kalorama since 1972, and he looks forward to socializing with the new residents….
Maguy Maccario Doyle, Monaco’s ambassador to the U.S., has not run into her high-profile new neighbors yet, but “”I’m thinking of inviting them all over for a glass or two of champagne,”” she said. “”Perhaps they will drop by to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with me in the springtime? I would love to host them. I’m sure we will discover we all have much more in common than just a zip code…” In addition, says Maccario, “”the security is unbeatable, and it’s reasonably close to the best amenities and businesses that D.C. has to offer.””
So, speaking of ambasssadors and “unbeatable security,” what about the spooks? Bien sur! Town and Country once more:
Kalorama has its quirky side. Marie Drissel and I sampled it on a stroll down Leroy Place, a short street that dead ends into Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle. She lives one street over on Bancroft, where Ralph Nader’s family have been longtime residents.
“”This was a CIA safe house for years,”” she says of a large house on her corner. She points out an imposing, red brick house across the street.
Of course, the Spence debacle was in 1989; nothing like it could happen today. And I’m sure there aren’t any safe houses in Kalorama now.
And speaking of spooks and “amenities,” see WaPo’s “The Shadow World of Craig Spence“. A taste:
One Washington Times headline on June 30 said everything: “Power broker served drugs, sex at parties bugged for blackmail” The problem is that the prominent people named in the Washington Times — Ted Koppel, Eric Sevareid, Phyllis Schlafly, William Casey, Arnaud de Borchgrave and many others — attended the other parties. The parties where: People sat around in a perimeter after dinner discussing trade policy, where American policy makers were ushered into circles of foreign visitors to make serious talk; parties to which Koppel would sometimes send a stand-in; parties so dull that even Dossier magazine wouldn’t run the photographs. Spence, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found. His lap dog Winston — from whom he is rarely separated — is at a town house in Upper Marlboro with a longtime Spence employee. The imposing stone house on Wyoming Avenue in Kalorama, where Spence once lived and entertained, is attracting gawking news hounds.
The Kalorama Mansion: $8.1 Million
Obama actually has four homes: In Oahu, Hyde Park, Martha’s Vineyard, and the focus of our present interest, Kalorama. From Ghosts of DC, here is the exterior of the 8,200 -square-foot mansion:
And here, from Town and Country, is part of the interior:
These images are from the listing agent; they remind me of the Georgetown safehouse in Spook Country where Milgrim hears the voices of Brown and his handler coming up the stairs, Whispering Gallery style. The decor is certainly very white; Michelle seems to have redecorated it in neutral tones with accent colors.
What Obama Has Done in Kalorama Mansion
Two things that I can track down (given Google and the limited time available to me; I have to attack HICPAC again soon).
First, Obama orchestrated Biden’s selection as the Democratic candidate from his mansion. From WaPo, April 14, 2020:
Former President Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday, saying in a video, with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, Biden “”has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery.””
Obama said of his vice president and friend, “”Joe gets stuff done.””
Biden has used his eight years serving as Obama’s vice president as a central credential in his White House bid.
….Obama, in his endorsement, reached out to Bernie Sanders supporters with lavish praise for the independent Vermont senator while scorching Republicans.
Visibly graying, Obama taped the video at his home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood.
The Night of the Long Knives was March 2. April 14 was the coup de grace. Obama clearly didn’t make this video on his iPhone; his office is set up for serious business.
Second, if Roger Stone (2020) is to be believed, Obama orchestrated Stone’s conviction:
For the sake of journalistic clarity and transparency, the woman appointed as the Jury Forewoman for my trial—Ms. Tomeka Hart—is an established Democratic Party activist and a protégé of the Donna Brazile….
I have in my possession a sworn affidavit from a secret service agent that claims that he witnessed Atty. Hart entering and leaving the residence of former President Barak and Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett on Kalorama Avenue in Washington, D.C.—during my trial.
Well, maybe. I can’t imagine this was ever proved in court. What Stone’s story does show is that Obama’s Kalorama mansion has been a focus on the right for some time.
Obama’s Shadow Government
With that very long setup, we undertstand Obama’s Kalorama milieu and his, well, operational capability within his mansion. We can now turn to the great slab of material I promised from Garrow and Samuels session (bold is Samuels, of The Tablet, roman is Garrow). I have added notes and highlighted comments. A Literary Editor, Samuels, makes the running, but these are strange times:
[SAMUELS] What interests you most about Obama today?
[GARROW] The number one thing about Barack this past five years is how completely he’s vanished.
Why is he living in the center of Washington, D.C., then?
Well, how much time is he spending there as opposed to Martha’s Vineyard? I have no idea.
Between July Fourth and Labor Day, sure. The rest of the year, he lives in a large brick mansion in Kalorama. Doesn’t it strike you as weird that he’s an ex-president, he’s comparatively young, and he’s living in the center of Washington, D.C.? The original excuse was that Sasha had to finish school. Then you could say, “”Well, the opposition to Trump needs a figure to rally around.”” But now Sasha has graduated from USC, Trump is gone, Joe Biden was elected present, but he’s still there.
I never see any mentions of him.
Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I mean, I have heard from more than one source that there are regular meetings at Obama’s house in Kalorama involving top figures in the current White House, with Secret Service and cars outside. I don’t write about it because it’s not my lane. There are over a thousand reporters in Washington, and yet there are zero stakeouts of Obama’s mansion, if only to tell us who is coming and going. But he clearly has his oar in….. It’s turtles all the way down. There are obviously large parts of White House policymaking that belong to Barack Obama because they’re staffed by his people, who worked for him and no doubt report back to him. Personnel is policy, as they say in Washington.
Which to me is a very odd and kind of spooky arrangement. Spooky, because it is happening outside the constitutional framework of the U.S. government, and yet somehow it’s been placed off the list of permitted subjects to report on. Which is a pretty good indicator of the extent to which the information we get, and public reactions to that information, is being successfully controlled. How and by whom remain open questions, the quick answer to which is that the American press has become a subset of partisan comms.
I’m going back to something you said 20 minutes ago. From the get-go, I know enough intelligence community stuff that from the first time I saw it, I realized that Christopher Steele’s shit was just complete crap. It was bad corporate intelligence, even. It was nonsensical.
What scared me back then was coming to understand that a new milieu had been created consisting of party operatives, the people in the FBI and the CIA who are carrying out White House policy, and the press. It is all one world now. And that’s something people still seem loathe to admit, even to themselves, in part because it puts them in a state of dissonance with this new kind of controlled consensus that the press maintains, which is obviously garbage. But if you question it, you’re some kind of nut.
Readers will understand why I find this thesis attractive. It conforms to my priors!
 We have a falsifiable theory. Do a stakeout.
 A Flex Net, a familiar data structure.
 Yes, a change in the constitutional order that I’ve been yammering about for some time, and also the central, unspoken theme of election 2024.
 The Twitter Files show this “milieu” clearly, though I’m not sure the command structure is as Samuels understands it. Also, tech is involved throught he content moderaion process, and maybe in other ways. (“Milieu” is a weak word’, I think, but we’re looking at a hard, unprecedented problem.
Samuels summarizes in his introduction:
To an extent that has never been meaningfully reported on, the Obamas served as both the symbolic and practical heads of the Democratic Party shadow government that ‘resisted’ Trump—another phenomenon that defied prior norms. The fact that these were not normal times could be adduced by even a passing glance at the front pages of the country’s daily newspapers, which were filled with claims that the 2016 election had been “”stolen”” by Russia and that Trump was a Russian agent.
Now to conclude with a critique.
Take “The Obama Factor” as read, as Samuels explains it. Is it correct to conceptualize the operation Obama is running from his Kalorama mansion as a government? (Remember that the scope of a shadow government is “whole of government,” not just parts.) Having read the article, and turning the question over in my mind, I posed the following question to the readership:
Query for the readership: Would Obama have invaded Ukraine, if he had been elected for a third term?
Because if Obama’s running the government, then he’s also running our proxy war in Ukraine? I should not have written “invaded”; I am always pressed temporally. Alert reader Nippersdad understood this, and answered what I meant to ask:
IIRC, Burns’ Nyet means Nyet cable was written during the Obama Administration when he was the Ambassador to Russia, a time in which Obama was saying that Russia had the advantage of proximity to any potential conflict with nearly unlimited ability to escalate (escalatory dominance, I think he called it). He was still saying that he was trying to implement the Minsk Accords as late as Feb. 2016.
“”We are pressing hard to see Minsk fully implemented by the time the president leaves office,”” said a senior administration official, referring to the pact brokered by France and Germany and signed by Ukraine and Russia. “”We’re aiming for implementation during the second half of 2016.””
So, no, in spite of the obvious pressure on him it did not look like he would have gone to war with Ukraine in a third term. That was Hillary’s bailiwick.
Alert reader Carolinian wrote:
And while I don’t like Obama I don’t think he would have invaded Ukraine or provoked a war the way Blinken/Biden did. After all Hillary tried to get him to attack Syria and he didn’t.
Alert reader IACyclone wrote:
Re: Would Obama have invaded Ukraine given a third term.
One of the few good things you can say about Obama is that he possesses a far more realistic understanding of foreign policy than most every other American politician. He’s still on board with the American imperial project and he constantly got rolled by opposing factions within the Deep State, but he at least he wasn’t totally high on his own supply.
Case in point, he explicitly told Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview that Ukraine is a critical interest to Russia, and that it isn’t one for the U.S. Thus Obama’s reticence to provide weapons to Ukraine, which Republicans excoriated him over, in order to avoid a cycle of escalation that the U.S. would have no desire or will to match. For all the liberals chanting Slava Ukraine, it would be fun to see the looks on their faces when you remind them that the U.S. started sending actual weapons to Ukraine under the Trump Administration, unlike the Obama Administrations commitment to sending only non-lethal aid.
Alert reader Michael Fiorillo wrote:
I am far from an Obama fan, to put it mildly, but I think he’d have been reluctant to go into Ukraine. His refusal to send missiles there and his negotiating with Iran suggests some sense of limits to US power on his part.
And alert reader Pat:
I despise Obama, but I have always given him credit for recognizing what a disaster Hilary’s Libyan invasion was and realizing that the advice from that faction was almost consistently wrong.
(I understand Rev Kev’s point on Obama closing embassies, but I see that as posturing.)
So, I am with these readers. If Obama would not have fought the Ukraine proxy war that Biden is fighting, then Obama is not “governing.” QED. This was my first thought as soon as I cooled down — it’s nice to have one’s priors supported — after reading “The Obama Factor,” which is why I reached out for confirmation. (In essence, Obama never goes near anything that will make him look out of control, or like a failure, or dirty in some way. He moves away from situations like that like a cat backing away from a dish of spilt milk. A war in Ukraine, even a proxy one, would be more than capable of doing all three. So he wouldn’t go near it.)
* * *
So what is Obama doing? What is “The Obama Factor”? Perhaps we should reframe government to that horrid neologism governance. It’s clear that Obama is maintaining his FlexNet and using it to….. do….. What, exactly? Control the Party so many of whose members have an Obama-shaped hole in their heads? Control the regulatory state through the Democrat Party? Consolidate the class power of the PMC? Whatever he’s doing, we can be sure it will be ice-cold, manipulative, and leave Obama with “clean hands.” Many have quoted Obama’s 2015 interview with quondam comic Stephen Colbert:
The transcript, in relevant part:
[OBAMA:] “”I used to say if I can make an arrangement where I had a stand-in or front-man or front-woman and they had an earpiece in and I was just in my basement in my sweats looking through the stuff and I could sort of deliver the lines while someone was doing all the talking and ceremony, I’d be fine with that because I found the work fascinating,”” Obama quipped.
As it turns out, Biden is not that front-man; otherwise, Obama would be governing, which is not. But if the entire Democrat Party were Obama’s stand-in… Well, that would be pretty neat, wouldn’t it?
Some “quip.” When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time….
 Interestingly, “conservative” venues like PJ Media say nothing about this topic at all.
 Thank you, Google, for cluttering the map with hotel icons that I have no interest in.
 I love it that Jim Bell, “a Kalorama resident and executive vice president of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty,” is also known as “the King of Kalorama.” Also: “Besides political heavy-hitters and diplomats, about a third of Kalorama’s residents are technology executives and hedge fund workers, Bell said. But no one is blinking an eye over the fame of the newest neighbors.” Quite a mix!
 Another example is the apparent myth that Obama gave Valerie Jarrett an office in his mansion.