Monday, July 28, 2008

Personal Aside: Barack Obama’s Chaotic Family Background Could Lead Some to Ask: Who is this Man? Does it Impact on Voters’ Insecurity About Him?


Chaotic Family Background.

With the papal-style visit of the Middle East and Europe ended, Barack Obama returned to the U.S. yesterday to be greeted by a 9-point bump in Gallup—a respectable but not overwhelming edge. But probably the most definitive question confronting him ran in “The Wall Street Journal” Friday.

A WSJ-NBC News poll finds that a full 50% of all voters say they are still trying to make up their mind on what kind of president he would be. Only a quarter are viewing Sen. John McCain the same way. All of which validates what most analysts have been saying for months: (1) change is in the air and the pendulum desperately wants to swing to the Democrats but (2) Obama seems to present some major risks while (3) voters have known John McCain for many years, understand he is not an extremist and feel comfortable with him but (4) Obama is an enigma.

Writes the WSJ: “When voters were asked whether they could identify with the background and values of the two candidates, 58% said they could identify with Sen. McCain on that account while 47% said the same of Sen. Obama. More than four in 10 said the Democratic contender doesn’t have value s and background they can identify with.”

Small wonder. Take the chaotic jumble that is in his immediate background. He has eight half-siblings—seven of them living—by four other marriages or relationships of his parents. His father, Barack Obama, Sr.had four children by a woman he married in Kenya before his 1960 marriage to Obama’s mother in Hawaii. Two of those children—son Aborigo (Roy) and daughter Auma—were born before Barack Obama, Jr.

After Obama, Sr. divorced Obama’s mother in 1963, he married another American woman whom he had brought to Kenya and with whom he had two more sons—Mark and David. That marriage ended in divorce and Obama, Sr. resumed his relationship with his first wife. Obama, Sr. and they had two other sons—Abo and Bernard—although Barack, Jr. wrote in his autobiography that there is some question as to whether another man actually fathered Bernard. Then Obama, Sr. had another son, George, by a woman he was involved with but did not marry. Following which Obama’s mother, the former Stanley (yes, Stanley since her father wanted a son so much he insisted she take a man’s name) Ann Dunham had a daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng from a second marriage to a man named Lolo Soetoro.

Got all that?

Not surprisingly, half-brothers and half-sisters to Obama keep popping up all the time (one just surfaced to the media in China the other day). The question could be asked: what does this trick bag of half-brothers, half-sisters, illegitimate brothers and sisters who may not be related at all but sired by others do to one’s stability?

We all know the emotional stress that settles on a child when one father abandons the child. What happens when TWO fathers abandon the same child, as happened with Obama? I mean Obama’s mother who took husband number two, Lolo Soetoro when Obama was six. He was an Indonesian student with whom she moved to Jakarta. Obama relates in his autobiography that she was shocked to discover Soetoro was a male chauvinist. So she divorced him and sent 10-year-old Barack, Jr. to live with her parents in Honolulu while she and his half sister stayed in Indonesia. All the while Obama’s polygamous natural father takes up again with his first wife, then marries another white American woman and adds a mistress, eventually fathering eight kids by four women.

Spider-web complications for genealogists and psychologists to work on for the prospective 44th president. Not exactly like George Washington marrying the widow Martha Custis, is it?

Reading the two autobiographies of this man who is 46 years old, we get a glimpse of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro Obama. She has a favorite film, a 1959 Brazilian art-house classic “Black Orpheus” which she talks insatiably about. Years later while working on Wall Street, Obama goes to a theatre to see it. He realizes that his very fair-skinned mother is sexually drawn to black men. So he writes, “The emotions between the races could never be pure; even lose was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that—menacing, alien and apart.”

Ben Wallace-Wells writing in “Rolling Stone” last year:

“There is an amazingly candid moment in Obama’s autobiography when he writes of his childhood discomfort at the way his mother would sexualize African-American men. `More than once,’ he recalls, ‘my mother would point out: “Harry Belafonte is the best-looking man on the planet.” What the focus groups his advisers conducted revealed was that Obama’s political career now depends, in some measure, upon a tamer version of this same feeling, on the complicated dynamics of how white women respond to a charismatic black man.’”

Op Ed writer Roger Cohen in “The New York Times” earlier this year wrote from Brussels: “So there I was, a couple of weeks back, sitting under a mango tree in western Kenya when Sen. Barack Obama’s half-sister Aune says to me: `My daughter’s father is British. My mom’s brother is married to a Russian. I have a brother in China engaged to a Chinese woman.’” Cohen adds he understands this half brother living in China is named Mark—the son of Obama’s father. But all this is good news if Obama becomes president.


Cohen exults: “If elected, Obama would be the first genuinely 21st century leader. The China-Indonesia-Kenya-Britain-Hawaii web mirrors a world in flux. In Kenya, his uncle Sayid, a Muslim told me: `My Islam is a hybrid, a mix of elements including my Christian schooling and even some African ways. Many values have dissolved in me.’”

How thrilling. And how revelatory of the man his half sister Auma spoke of to writer Cohen during Obama’s second trip to Kenya:

“He was trying to figure out who he was. He needed to be whole to be able to do what he’s doing now. He went about it in the right way. A big chunk of his life was missing. It’s very healthy that he now knows he has these roots here.”

But as he himself wrote, on his first trip to Kenya two decades ago he met a woman named Ruth in Nairobi, whom he described as “a white woman with a long jaw and graying hair.”

Who was she? She was a woman who divorced Obama’s father, remarried and gave the family name of her second husband to her two sons by Obama, Sr. In his book she asks Obama bluntly:

“But your mother remarried. I wonder why she had you keep your name?”

Good question. But only one of many. This jumble, this crazy-quilt of divorces, illegitimate births, mistresses and a potential president having been abandoned by two fathers in a row may lead even more voters to be doubtful when it comes out (as it hasn’t to any substantial degree yet). Even now there’s enough doubt to understand why in the new WSJ/NBC poll by a 55% to 35% margin voters are more likely to say that Obama would be the riskier choice. Not only are his views opaque but his very background is…as Churchill described the USSR…an enigma, wrapped in a mystery bound up in a riddle.

Odds are even my bringing up this chaotic background will be assailed as “unfair” even “racist.” That’s standard operating procedure for Obama’s aficionados. You can’t criticize anything about him…his wife, his religion, the size of his ears, his announcing that he has traveled to all 57 states in the Union, his statement that Israel is Israel’s best friend (which had McCain said this would be written widely as an example of a senior moment). Now they will howl it’s unfair to report his murky, very murky, familial past.

But the question remains: How much emotional stability can accrue when you come from a mad house non-family background like his? When two fathers have abandoned you? This hasn’t been reported very much.

Well I just did.


  1. John Thomas Mc GeeanJuly 28, 2008 at 6:18 AM

    Everything you said is true! However the Press is in love with Obama and will promote his candidacy at all costs.

  2. elizabeth alexanderJuly 28, 2008 at 8:10 AM

    That's odd. Earlier, I wrote, "How do you account for McCain's instability?"

    I looked later to see what else was posted, and my little note was deleted.

    I'm sorry. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to say that. I beg your pardon.

  3. Usually, Mr. Roeser, we are warmed by the story of a person who rises from a poor background: an adoptee, who founds a successful food chain; Abraham Lincoln, of uncertain parentage and great backwoods poverty, who becomes our greatest president. Does Obama's background, which he did not determine, make him not part of the "American Story?"