But now, in a blistering new biography, Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist David Maraniss has pulled his exes out of the shadows.
In so doing, he has revealed an unflattering picture of a president so desperate to sell an image of himself as a pioneering race warrior that he has air-brushed many of the ‘white’ elements from his life — including that string of well-heeled, well-educated white girlfriends.
Obama’s version of events, in his autobiography, is a moving story of a mixed-race child struggling to find his black identity after being deserted as a young child by his Kenyan father.
It tells how his grandfather was imprisoned by the British for helping the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya — an assertion that Obama’s step-grandmother later embellished with claims he was also tortured — for which Maraniss found no evidence.
Delighted Republican opponents are picking over the inconsistencies (38 at the last count) between Obama’s own memoirs — published in 1995 as he prepared to launch his political career — and the facts uncovered by Maraniss.
Time and again, Obama, who has had to fight hard to convince other African Americans of his ‘black credibility’, appears to have burnished his radical credentials, not least by playing up the roles of black people in his life and playing down the roles of the white.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in his romantic life.
For Genevieve Cook — to whom admittedly the President alludes in his memoirs — wasn’t the first white girlfriend in his life, nor the last.Supremely self-absorbed, Obama forever harped on about his search for meaning and identity.
He seemed oblivious to her feelings, once remarking that, tempting as it would be to run off with her when he finished his degree in New York, it would mean living ‘in some sense of compromise and retreat’.
Obama’s self-obsession would have left many women cold, if not bored to death, but McNear persevered.
‘His warmth can be deceptive. Though he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness.’
They often talked about race and Obama would confide that he felt like an ‘imposter’ as there was ‘hardly a black bone in his body’.
She eventually told him he ‘needed to go black’ (to date a black woman), whereas he countered that he would never find a black woman ‘he would feel truly comfortable with’.
They moved into a flat together but their intellectual discussions eventually turned into fights over issues like the washing-up.
In the end, Cook tired of his emotional ‘withheld-ness, his lack of spontaneity’, and broke up with him in 1985.
Cook insists she couldn’t have been more sympathetic about his confusion over his racial identity but that’s not how Obama portrayed it in his memoirs.
He recounts taking his New York girlfriend to see a black play after which she ‘started talking about why black people are so angry all the time’.
They had a ‘big fight’ in front of the theatre and she burst into tears and said she couldn’t be black.
All very dramatic but Cook insisted to Maraniss that it never happened.