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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 27, 2020
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman February 27, 2020

Pro-Trump PAC takes Obama book quote out of context to attack Biden

If Your Time is short

  • In the book “Dreams of my Father,” Obama recounts a complaint of a black barber about the times before Chicago elected its first African American mayor.

  • The attack ad uses the excerpt to baselessly imply Obama said Biden ignored the needs of blacks. 

  • In reality, the passage was about a key African American election victory.

A pro-Trump PAC recycled a quote from President Barack Obama — taken out of context — to attack Joe Biden. In an ad that aired during the Feb. 25 Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C., the Committee to Defend the President urged African Americans to turn their backs on Biden.

Here’s the ad’s text:

"Joe Biden promised to help our community. It was a lie. Here is President Obama: ‘Plantation politics. Black people in the worst jobs, the worst housing, police brutality rampant. But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket, sell our souls for a Christmas turkey.’ Enough. Joe Biden won’t represent us, defend us or help us. Don’t believe Biden’s empty promises."

We’ve seen this quote from Obama before. The same PAC used exactly the same material in November to attack Democrats in general for failing the black community.

We rated it Pants on Fire. Here’s why.

What Obama wrote in his book

The voice in the ad sounds like Obama dramatizing someone else’s words, and the words were not his own views. They came from Obama reading from his 1995 book "Dreams From My Father" about his days as a community organizer in Chicago. He recounted his conversation with a barber he called Smitty about Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.

Smitty explains Chicago politics to Obama, who told the barber he was not in Chicago for the election of Washington.

Here’s how the scene plays in the book:

"Had to be here before Harold to understand what he means to this city," Smitty said. "Before Harold, seemed like we’d always be second-class citizens."

"Plantation politics," the man with the newspaper said.

"That’s just what it was, too," Smitty said. "A plantation. Black people in the worst jobs. The worst housing. Police brutality rampant. But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we'd all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket. Sell our souls for a Christmas turkey. White folks spitting in our faces, and we’d reward ‘em with the vote."

In his book, Obama then described the power of African Americans to shape their political destiny when they are unified.

Obama wrote: 

"They had turned out in record numbers on election night, ministers and gang-bangers, young and old. And their faith had been rewarded."

In Smitty’s words, "The night Harold won, let me tell you, people just ran the streets … ," he said, recounting how the community was proud of Washington and themselves. "When I woke up the next morning, it seemed like the most beautiful day of my life."

The pro-Trump ad uses the passage to create the impression that Obama believed that black voters, ignored and suffering, sold their soul to the Democrats at election time. But the actual book passage is quoting another speaker, and talks about the good things that come from voting.

Worse, the ad suggests Obama was talking about recent times and the failings of Joe Biden. 

We contacted the PAC behind the ad and they defended their use of the excerpt.

Our ruling

A pro-Trump ad says that Obama said black people have the "worst jobs, the worst housing" and face rampant police brutality, "but when so-called black committeemen came around election time we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket, sell our souls for a Christmas turkey."

While Obama did say those words, they were not his own. In his book "Dreams from my Father," Obama was describing a conversation with a Chicago barber who remembered African Americans helping elect Chicago’s first black mayor. 

The ad creates an impression that Obama was describing the failure of Democrats, including Biden, to actually help blacks, while in reality, the passage was about a key African American election victory.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Committee to Defend the President, Biden attack ad, Feb. 25, 2020

Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father, 2004

Chicago Tribune, Obama's Chicago: An illustrated tour of key sites (infographic) May 12, 2015

Chicago Tribune, Obama's Chicago; Take our unauthorized tour of the candidate's stomping grounds, (Accessed in Nexis) June 25, 2008

PolitiFact, Pro-Trump Facebook ad takes text in Obama’s book wildly out of context, Nov. 12, 2019

Email exchange, Luka Ladan, spokesman, Committee to Defend the President, Feb. 27, 2020

 

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More by Jon Greenberg

Pro-Trump PAC takes Obama book quote out of context to attack Biden

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