Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Last week’s column in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Continuing to follow the latest Electoral College state-by-state polling which is the only survey that counts…last week, Karl Rove’s map for Fox News showed Barack Obama with two more votes than needed to elect--leading John McCain 272 to 183 with 83 electoral votes in the toss-up category. The Rove prediction came before a Quinnipac poll that showed Obama could lose every toss-up state—Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada—and still win the election. Good as this seems for Obama at this stage, Chicago’s David Axelrod, the prime strategist, has some serious worries, leading off with this one:

No Significant Bump in Ratings.

Just about everyone agrees that Obama’s trip to the Middle East (not Europe) was almost flawlessly executed with some huge public relations points gained—notably the stunning endorsement of his timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq by Premier Nuri Kamal al-Maliki which seemed to contradict McCain and President Bush and seemingly placed Obama in the statesman category. Yet, there was no significant media “bump” or hike in his ratings over McCain. Axelrod had guessed privately that the bump would be between 15 and 20 points with gradual lessening as the campaign proceeds.

Not so. Probably not so because of Europe where the candidate gave a filmy, stagy performance at Victory Column in Berlin that undermined his mid East gains. While most national polls show Obama with a single-digit lead among registered voters, a new survey out late last week (USA Today/Gallup) showed, incredibly, McCain ahead by four points among likely voters (49 to 45), after picking up 10 points the past month. Since everyone, me included, sees McCain’s campaign being one of the worst-managed GOP efforts since Gerald Ford’s abysmal one in 1976 the question is: why?

The answer comes in two parts. Part I is exactly what I forecast a few weeks ago. The election focus is almost exclusively on Obama (McCain has been a known commodity to people for 20 years). What is there, then, about Obama that causes his numbers to stay mired? New York Times political writer Adam Nagourney, a liberal correspondent for what is probably the nation’s most liberal national newspaper, asked the question last week. To find the answer he quoted one pollster (Bill McInturff, a Republican) as saying, “People say in focus groups, `Who the heck is Barack Obama? Had you heard of him before six months ago?’ Others: `He’s 46 years old. He’s somebody nobody knows about.’”

Peter Hart, the most influential Democratic pollster told Nagourney: “Here’s a 46-year-old African-American with a narrative that is very unusual and that few Americans can relate to. Add to the fact that he has had four years in the U.S. Senate and very little international experience. That’s a large leap for the American public to make.” Nagourney concludes: “Even Obama’s advisers say they are uneasy at his difficulty at breaking the 50% barrier, a reminder, in poll after poll, that there are a lot of Americans who are not ready to cast their lot with him and may never be.”

Yet, Obama is not the first presidential candidate to come upon the scene largely unknown. John F. Kennedy in 1960 was 43 and, unlikely as it seems now since he has become an international icon, was far from a household word that year, having been a relatively obscure 3-term House member from Massachusetts and a backbench senator in a largely undistinguished second-term. Why is Obama lagging when he is the putative Democratic nominee, the Democratic party far more popular than the Republican, the public clearly turned off on George W. Bush, believing the Iraq war was a mistake, the economy in the doldrums and people griping for having to shell out $4 a gallon for gas—all blamable by polls to the party in power?

The answer is clear—There is widespread public uncertainty about the man himself. His genealogy may explain why.

Obama’s Chaotic Identity.

Part II: Slowly but surely, the American public may well be coming to understand Barack Obama’s chaotic Third World family background, mostly, ironically, through his highly literary, almost poetic, two autobiographies, particularly in the poignant Dreams from My Father (the wistful yearning of Obama for his lost father who left the family). The national media have bent over backwards not to emphasize his genealogical history—but slowly the cognizance of the electorate is gaining the perception of a genealogy at great variance with what Americans are used to in presidents.

U.S. presidents have come heretofore in three broad ethnic categories. The overwhelming number of them have been Anglo-Saxon, the second number Scots-Irish and the smallest number Dutch (the Roosevelts) or German (Eisenhower). This is at great variance with the chaotic…there’s no other way to describe it…immediate background of Barack Obama.

He has eight half-siblings—seven of them living—by four different 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 Auma (daughter)—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 also ended in divorce and Obama, Sr. resumed his relationship with his first wife. Obama, Sr. and she had two more 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, Geroge by a woman he was involved with but didn’t marry. Following which, Obama’s mother, the former Stanley Ann Dunham (yes, Stanley. She was named Stanley because her father wanted a boy) had a daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng from a second marriage to a man named Lolo Soetoro.

Got all that? Since he has become prominent, unsurprisingly, half-brothers and half-sisters have kept popping up in the news all the time. One just surfaced in China last week. Obviously this adds to the feeling by many Americans that they don’t know who this guy is. As a matter of fact, as his own two autobiographies show, at times he hasn’t known who he is. Then there is the very poignant fact that psychological studies have shown the confusion and instability that comes when a child is abandoned by a father. But Barack Obama was abandoned by two…not one…fathers including his mother’s No. 2, Lolo Soetoro who took over the duties of fatherhood when Obama was six.

Obama says in his autobiography that Lolo Soetoro was a dark-skinned Indonesian student with whom his white mother Stanley Ann Dunham Obama moved to Jakarta. She was shocked as a feminist/atheist 60s radical 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 Barack, Jr.’s half-sister continued to live in Indonesia. All the while Obama’s polygamous natural father took up again with his first wife, dumps her, then marries another white American woman and adds a mistress, eventually fathering eight kids by four women.

Is this Barack Obama Jr.’s fault? Of course not! Should it be held against him when he had utterly nothing to do with these occurrences? Again, of course not! But it explains the gradual waryness of the voting public that this Third World multi-racial spider web of half-brothers, half-sisters, mistresses and a so-called brother who may have been sired by a man not his mother’s husband, is impossibly complex to identify with a potential president, the most complex of which were Ronald Reagan having been divorced, Gerald Ford having married a divorcee, Warren Harding having married a divorcee and had some affairs (although assuredly no illegitimate children since his physician determined he was sterile) and George Washington marrying the widow Martha Custis. The only case of presidential ancestry remotely close to Obama’s is Bill Clinton’s. His mother Virginia Kelley married and lost three husbands. His natural father William Jefferson Blythe 3rd was a traveling salesman with a secret life of previous marriages and children, was killed. He was adopted by his stepfather, Roger Clinton and took his surname at age 16. Roger Clinton, an alcoholic, took to beating his wife, once spent a night in jail for firing a gun near her and desisted only when Bill Clinton, at age 14, interceded and warned him never to abuse his mother again.

But even by the Bill Clinton standard, Barack Obama’s history is novel.

Most if not all of these things about his ancestry come from Obama’s own voluminous writings about his family in two published autobiographies (a record for one still in his 40s) which earned vast profits but which David Axelrod has grown to profoundly regret…even hate. In Dreams from My Father, he gives a vivid glimpse of his mother, the late Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro Obama. She talked incessantly to him about her favorite movie, the 1959 art-house classic “Black Orpheus” a Brazil reincarnation of the old Greek mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice. Years later while working on Wall Street, Obama went to an art theatre to see it. The film, which won an Oscar, opens with images of white Greek statues that explode to reveal black men dancing the samba to drums in a Brazil favela or shanty town.

After seeing the film, Obama realized that his very fair-skinned mother (he describes her as “white as milk”) was sexually drawn to black men. He writes elliptically, “The emotions between the races could never be pure….tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. We sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that—menacing, alien and apart.” Rather ominous for the future of U.S. race relations in a man very close to become our 44th president.

Probably the most revelatory review of Obama’s vivid writings was written last year in Rolling Stone, the magazine devoted to rock music, politics and popular culture, targeted to young readers, which offers much sex-oriented content, owned by a major contributor and fund-raiser for Obama, Jann Wenner (who put Obama on its cover twice). Writer Ben Wallace-Wells wrote:

“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, on a tamer version of this same feeling, on the complicated dynamics of how white women respond to a charismatic black man.”

David Axelrod gnaws his knuckles and passionately wishes this review had not been written. Also a New York Times Op Ed by Roger Cohen earlier this year:

“So there I was, a couple of weeks back, sitting under as mango tree in western Kenya when Sen. Barack Obama’s half-sister Auna 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 that he understands this half brother living in China is Mark, the son of Obama’s father and says, happily, all this is good news if Obama becomes president. “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.’”

In Uncle Sayid’s famous nephew as well? Thrilling for Uncle Sayid. Not necessarily so, it appears, for the U.S. electorate.

Then, Cohen goes on to quote Auma about Barack, Jr.’s second trip to Kenya: “He was trying to figure out who he was. [italics mine]. 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.”

Finally, the potential 44th president of the U.S. himself wrote this in Dreams from My Father about his first trip to Kenya two decades ago. He reports that 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 had married and divorced Obama’s natural father, who had since remarried and had given the family name of her second husband to her two sons by Obama, Sr. Then she says bluntly to young Obama:

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

In the book Obama has no answer to this question. Nor do we. But it illustrates why increasingly many people say they don’t know who Obama is. The question is: Does he? This jumble, this crazy-quilt pattern of births, divorces, illegitimate births, mistresses and abandonment by two fathers, one natural one adoptive, in a row may lead even more voters to be doubtful when the full story comes out (it hasn’t dawned on most Americans yet). But it explains at least partially why in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll voters by a margin of 55% to 35% feel Obama would be the riskier choice for voters to make.

One additional point to be made: More than any other presidential campaign in my memory (going back to 1940), the Obama for president people have ruled off…with the complicity of the mainstream media…questions that could be asked of candidate Obama—while at the same time the media considers themselves famous from grilling other presidential candidates including John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giulinai et al. These questions regarded by the Obama people as “out of line” include whether or not he was a practicing Muslim as a child when both his natural father and adoptive one were…details about his mother and natural father not earlier revealed in his two autobiographies…details and interviews verboten of his grandmother, Stanley Ann Dunham’s mother (who was a very successful bank executive in Honolulu), his grandfather, his many half-brothers and half-sisters…his wife (he has said criticism of her is “out of bounds”)…his statement that “we’re no longer a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of non- believers”…his endorsement for president by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan…

Continuing: the secret side of David Axelrod who has become a multi-millionaire by discreetly plotting advertising campaigns for corporate clients including ComEd, Comcast and AT&T to tilt public opinion their way—all the while Obama rails against lobbyists who work for “special interests” …that and the size of his ears (Obama particularly resenting questions about his physiognomy.)

Small wonder the electorate is starting to believe Barack Hussein Obama is, as Winston Churchill described the USSR, “an enigma wrapped in a riddle and enveloped in a mystery.”

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