Thursday, March 29, 2007

BIG BOSS LADY COMING TO OBAMA’S RESCUE. Wife Michelle Has Better Touch with all-Important Democratic Base.

To Rekindle Dreams of White Kansas “ Girl Named Stanley.”

By Thomas F. Roeser

[Another column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest Catholic weekly].

CHICAGO—In 1969 Johnny Cash recorded the song “A Boy Named Sue” which detailed a tough hombre’s search for his father who named him Sue. The song goes, One night in Gatlinburg in mid-July and I just hit town and my throat was dry/ I thought I’d stop and have myself a brew/ At an old saloon on a street of mud/ there at a table dealing stud/ Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me Sue!

Well I knew that snake was my own sweet dad/ from a worn-out picture that my mother’d had/ And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye/He was big and bent and gray and old/ And I looked at him and my blood ran cold/ And I said: “MY NAME IS SUE! HOW DO YOU DO? Now you gonna die!”

They struggled mightily, gouging and kicking each other. Finally the old man was looking down the muzzle of his son’s .45—and he said “Now you just fought one hell of a fight/ And I know you hate me and you got the right/ To kill me now and I wouldn’t blame you if you do/ But ya ought to thank me before I die/ For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye/ Cause I’m the [deleted four words] that named you `Sue.’

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun/ And I called him my pa and he called me his son/ And I came away with a different point of view.

But concludes Cash, “I think about him every time I try and win/ And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”

Similar bitterness caused the mother of Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., a white Kansan, to detest the name her father hung on her--Stanley. That’s right: Stanley. Her father wanted a boy; she was to be their only child so he insisted on giving her the name Stanley. Some women don’t mind having men’s names—the popular Chicago Sun-Times female columnist Michael Sneed being one of them.

But Stanley Ann Dunham hated the name Stanley (who can blame her?). She told a girlfriend, “I know, it’s a boy’s name…and no, I don’t like it. I mean, would you like to be called Stanley? But my dad wanted a boy and he got me. And the name `Stanley’ made him feel better, I guess.”

She warred with her father on many issues—`60s politics, feminism and economics as she snowballed into a predictable radical, first agnostic, then atheist. She rolled her eyes whenever her salesman father extolled Kansan virtues, his Baptist religion and his wife’s Methodism. Then Madelyn and Stanley Dunham moved to Honolulu, taking Stanley Ann with them. He ran a furniture store but Madelyn landed the better job of the two—an executive at the Bank of Hawaii. Maybe to please their lefty daughter they both became Unitarians.

Then Stanley Ann Dunham went to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and met fascinating and ambitious Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Muslim from Kenya, who was enrolled as a foreign student. They married against the wishes of Obama’s black parents and Stanley Ann’s white ones. Obama, a doctoral student, went to Harvard, stopped writing to his wife and drifted away when his son was only two. Obama, Sr.’s dream was to become a prominent civil servant in Kenya. He got his Ph.D, went back to Kenya, was disappointed in not rising significantly and died in an automobile accident, never writing to or seeing his ex-wife or infant son again. Once when old friends saw him, he was bitter and drinking heavily. He never asked about either Ann or his son. The continuing mystery is why Obama, Jr. dreamed—and dreams—of his father who abandoned him.

Stanley Ann Dunham then married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian foreign student, a Muslim like Obama, Sr., with whom she had one daughter. Maya Soetoro-Ng. The family moved to Jakarta in 1967 where young Barack attended local schools, including a Muslim one, also a Catholic one, from age 6 to 10. Lolo Soetoro turned out to be a boozer and womanizer. When they split, young Barack was sent back to Honolulu to live with his grandparents. With them footing the bill, he attended the exclusive Punahou school, a private, coeducational prep school from fifth grade to his graduation in 1979. Ann Dunham died of cancer in 1995, shortly after Dreams was published. What she thought of it—especially since its title is trained on her ex-husband from whom she never heard anything once he left--is unknown.

For this information, we are at last—at long-long last—indebted to people who investigated, probed and wrestled the details beyond what is contained in the two rhapsodic autobiographies written by Obama. Or most news analyses despite the fact that today he is one of the three major U. S. Democratic candidates for the presidency of the United States. Who did this investigatory work? Not the New York Times nor ABC, CBS, NBC or CNN or Fox. They are reporters who work for the Chicago Tribune who went to Kansas, Honolulu and Jakarta following the footsteps of Obama, his mother and her two husbands.

It’s stunning, really, that routine bio collection should have taken so long. Why did it? Because mainstream media’s view of political correctness jealously guards any black liberal Democratic presidential candidate from possible political embarrassment. (Alan Keyes doesn’t count. He may be black but he’s not liberal but conservative, not Democratic but Republican.)

Still, up to now, the dearth of information on Obama has been weird because, since 2002 he’s been this state’s top political black and since 2004 the nation’s main African American draw. Tons of stories have been written, hours of TV time logged—but his bio has not stirred anyone to go beyond his books or office p. r.. It was sufficient to worship Obama as Destiny’s Tot. Who wrote the book Dreams from My Father. The only African-American in the U. S. Senate. The first major black office-holder to run for president in history. Only the fifth African-American Senator in U. S. history. With grace, patrician bearing and gentle irony not vastly different from that of John Kennedy—thin as a rail, boyish, diffidently shy.

The book, which he wrote himself in 1995, displays near poetic literary skill and has been riding high on the New York Times best-seller list since the keynote. Now rivaled in sales by his sequel which has become the watchword for his 2008 presidential campaign. The Audacity of Hope. But just as remarkable: while other presidential candidates have had to submit to pertinent biographical questions from the predominantly liberal mass-media, the same ground-rules were not applied to Obama.

The same media demands to know: how many wives Mitt Romney’s Mormon great-grandfather had...why Rudy Giuliani tried to sneak a mistress who became wife number 3 into Gracie Mansion while wife number 2 still lived there…how Newt Gingrich married trice and what new salacious details did he confess to an evangelical radio host…why the returning John McCain scrubbed wife number 1, disabled in a car wreck, for wife number 2, a rich trophy number from an Arizona multi-millionaire family…how Hillary Clinton’s relationships with husband Bill are faring—even how she will keep an eye on him from the White House while he roves the world…how John Edwards’ wife’s breast cancer will affect his candidacy.

But no market for pesky biographical questions of Obama.

Indeed, to even ask for details has come to be regarded as bad form here by an adulatory, not reportorial, media. Calling him by his given middle name, Hussein, has been adjudged as latent racism. Not to mention asking questions about his mother and father. Particularly his mother. Why? Basically, in polite society it is not kosher to probe the background of a `60s radical, anti-American atheist and near-revolutionary with ties to a Democratic poster-candidate. The ground-rules are set and firm: We must not offend a liberal black presidential candidate with a Leftist in his family—especially if he is black. Verboten.

As a politically incorrect local writer and radio broadcaster, I noticed how the media granted Obama immunity from personal questions, so for months I have prodded away at Obama’s bio but was called by some a near-racist for doing so. When I asked why he hadn’t written about his mother rather than his father, some of my colleagues murmured tough things about my impertinence. Then I asked if it were true that Obama spent early formative years in a Muslim school in Indonesia where he had been listed as a Muslim. This provoked an outcry from the media and a flurry of answers from reporters and commentators--rather than answers from the candidate himself or his handlers.

So when the pressure on whether or not he was ever a Muslim didn’t abate, CNN-Atlanta sent a national TV crew, no-less, to the Indonesian school he attended. They interviewed the headmaster. He wasn’t there 20 years ago when Obama attended the school. But they took his word for studies pursued twenty years earlier, issued a flat denial in behalf of the candidate along with an innuendo of rebuke for the question even having been asked.

Until now, a stonewall was protected the candidate and his handlers. The adulatory press answered for him, saying that reporters with questions should do the investigations themselves and not badger the campaign with questions—a stunning proposition: this while Romney, McCain, Giuliani, Edwards, Clinton, Newt Gingrich—and even minor candidates of both parties—were required to submit details in response to press questions.

An adversarial press vis-à-vis Republicans, forcing Giuliani’s third wife to admit she was herself married three times, something she admitted after interrogation last week. Only after steadily asking for as many biographical details as are available for other presidential candidates when reporters asked where Obama’s Kansas-born white mother was, we learned that she had died twelve years ago. Case closed. Some adulators implied her death was a private matter--nobody’s business; others defended the close-to-the-vest information policy, asserting, “we knew all the time she was dead.” The point was: Few knew or asked more than what the campaign office chose to release.

. Then last week, the Tribune came forth with a great many biographical details of Obama and his family. Late but welcome anyhow. No serious transgressions were divulged--but the facts have been held in abeyance too long. Still, there are interesting sidelights. We learned that while the senior Stanley Dunham is dead, his wife Madelyn is alive at 84 but that there is an embargo on her being interviewed. Although she was a bright and successful bank executive during Obama’s Punahou days, her receptivity is a closed book. We know that in the words of his half-sister “those were robust years full of energy and cacophony and she loved all of it.” Why is she kept away from the media? Well, we’re not privileged to know that—yet. Perhaps never. Is she incapacitated or unwilling to be interviewed? We don’t know that, either. Big media shush: It is not good form to ask.

But there’s a lot we do know about Barack Obama. And some of what we have learned contradict the lovingly cherished current knowledge the candidate has circulated in his two autobiographies. In Dreams, Obama records a youth that is beset with racism, recalls having heated conversations about racism in Hawaii where he spent with another black student whom he gives the fictional name of “Ray.” The description is vivid—as vivid as Lincoln’s log cabin days or Bill Clinton’s young days in Hope, Arkansas. Really? Was the imagery contrived with a political hook concealed?

Racism in Hawaii: a state which has no minorities because blood-lines have been so long intermingled? Still, racism in Hawaii and the nation is a major focus for Obama—one dominant theme of his candidacy. He characterizes “Ray” as embittered.

But now it turns out that the real “Ray,” Keith Kakugawa, a convicted drug felon, half black and half Japanese, has said in an interview with the Tribune that he always considered himself of mixed race like so many in Hawaii since intermixture of races is its heritage. Kakugawa says he was not—and is not--an angry young black man. Why would he pretend if he didn’t really believe it? Why would Obama pretend unless he was trying to hammer and hammer an age-old political point?

In fact, in his interview with the Tribune Kakugawa scoffed at the idea that he and Obama rubbed their scabs raw concerning racism in their many long conversations. “It wasn’t a race thing,” he said. “Not even close. Barry’s [Obama’s nickname as a boy] biggest struggles then were missing his parents. His biggest struggles were his feelings of abandonment. The idea that his biggest struggle was race is [bull].”

But the book’s aura about Obama, the young, attractive, bright Harvard lawyer, his forefinger struck deep in his cheek in intellectual musing, has become the presidential campaign’s favorite image. Take a look at the photographs of Obama in the media: pondering. Pondering. Pondering. What is he pondering? Ah, how to rectify our horrid race relations. How to win justice for our unjust contemporary world. Despite the fact that in our “unjust contemporary world,” he has come out gangbusters--extraordinarily well. What else is he contemplating? His diverse background that makes him best equipped of all the candidates to speak for rich and poor, black and white, mainstream and backwater, activists and those alienated by the political system. Dreams attempts to back it up. But wait--.

At least one vivid episode from Dreams was fictionalized. Either that or cannot be corroborated. Either invented outright by the author or a fading bogus memory of a long-lost magazine he is at loss to identify. Fortifying his heavy theme of racism in America, Obama recalls that Life magazine stunned him with an article he pored over at the age of nine. An article and two accompanying photographs showed a black man so ashamed of his race that he physically and mentally maimed himself by trying to lighten his skin. But the article doesn’t exist in Life back copies. Obama has said perhaps it was Ebony. The article doesn’t exist in its back copies either. No one can find any magazine that carried this story. His answer—smooth, practiced—is contained in a new introduction he has written for Dreams: The perils of writing an autobiography includes “the temptation to color events in ways favorable to the writer…[and] selective lapses of memory. I can’t say that I’ve avoided all, or any, of these hazards successfully.”

There’s more. In his autobiographical books, we see Obama making friends easily and becoming facile in the Indonesian language. But to a person, his friends and ex-teachers told the Tribune he had great difficulty with the new language. A woman named Israela Pareira Darmawan, his first grade teacher, said she worked mightily to help him learn the Indonesian language but it was a great struggle. He went for a time to a Catholic school the religion made no dent on him.

When his mother moved again, it was to a lush, expensive neighborhood three miles away, was enrolled at a predominantly Muslim school (where he was registered as a Muslim probably because his natural father had been one). But whether he was ever a Muslim or indoctrinated as one is still not answered. Were this to be the fact, his presidential candidacy as a fallen-away Muslim would be horrendously complicated. But, hey, the book gives excitingly crafted political hope. In contrast to his mother’s rejection of religion, he—the future president—has picked up an embrace of religion as “a vessel for my beliefs.” Huzza!

Back in Hawaii, the young Barack was sent to Punahou (the tuition presumably paid by his grandparents), the exclusive prep school in Hawaii, where he informs us conversations frequently dealt with race and civil rights. But were they? His ex-classmates deny this saying in Hawaii race was and is not that much a factor. He recounts going to parties at Schofield Barracks and other military bases with his buddies just to mingle with black servicemen so great was his need to reach out to his roots. But no one the Tribune interviewed recalls him being there.

Then his mother, seized with wanderlust, moved back to Indonesia but he stayed with his grandparents in Hawaii. Mother was evidently out of the picture. His grandparents loved him very much. His high school yearbook has him thanking his grandparents—“Tut and Gramps”—but not mentioning his mother. No Dreams of his Mother. Recently he rectified that in an interview, calling his mother “the dominant figure in my formative years…The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.”

This is all we know for present of the real Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. But it’s more than we have known; and assuredly more will come. The most significant news for future Obama politics came this week when his wife, Michelle Robinson Obama, the tall, beauteous, Ebony magazine-like model former Winston-Strawn blue-chip law firm attorney, a highly paid vice president of the University of Chicago hospitals, determined to join him almost full-time in the campaign.

That is more important than anything else for to those close to them here, she is the strong one in the family. For all the missing pieces in his biography, Barack Hussein Obama is still significantly behind Hillary Clinton for the nomination—Clinton 35%, Obama 23.4%, Edwards 12.2%. To get the nomination, he must activate the Left, try to pick up the Edwards chunk if he leaves the fray because of his wife’s illness—and Edwards’ group is Left. Michelle Obama, who often leans forward intently in her TV interviews, is no shrinking violet, is far more polarizing than her husband.

Just as he and Hillary Clinton both stumbled over whether homosexual acts are immoral to placate the center, Michele would have remembered the Democratic Left which is the party base.

She seizes the reins of a campaign which isn’t exactly setting the prairies afire as it once did. The Left needs a candidate who fights racism, inequality, racism, poverty. It can thrill to the sympathetic refrains of the Kansas Girl Named Stanley, the white, idealist who wanted to change the world. That image of a liberal do-gooder is bound to ring all the bells in the Democratic base’s hearts. The Girl Named Stanley must be remembered more vividly than the old song about The Boy Named Sue. That’s why the presidential candidate suddenly remembered to bestow a memory kiss to his mother whom he neglected to credit in his yearbook in favor of Tut and Gramps. If Michelle had her way, there’d be yet another book, Dreams from My Mother to cause the oldsters in the left to wipe a tear away remembering Peter, Paul and Mary.

For the Left, Michelle Robinson Obama will be the Obama campaign’s big Kahuna, ancient Hawaiian for “expert, teacher, adviser, doer.” In essence--“big boss lady.”


  1. A British newspaper, "The Daily Mail" published a story on Obama's Kenyan father several weeks ago that was positively devastating. Naturally, none of the American newspapers chose to reprint the investigative report. The man depicted in Obama's biography as an educated and forward thinking leader is totally fictional. It does make you wonder if the junior United States Senator is naive or delusional. Somehow, I do not expect Oprah Winfrey to have Obama on her program to explain why he falsified portions of his own memoirs. Movie fans may recall a film from the Fifties called "The Great Man" with Jose Ferrer. In the course of preparing a tribute to a widely admired broadcaster, Ferrer learns that the man was nothing at all like his public image. In fact, he was a miserable fraud and a detestable person when he was not on the airwaves. Ferrer submits his retrospective to the network and finds out that it will not be aired. The network chiefs want to continue to promote the myth. This sounds suspiciously similar to the American media's refusal to scrutinize Barack Hussein Obama.

  2. Tom,

    Don't you think that the term "Big Boss Lady" really applies more to Hillary Clinton?