A number of publications have been running President Obama assessment articles, given that he is nearing the end of his second term. And the campaign of Donald Trump is also fomenting retrospectives on the Obama administration, given The Donald’s role in the “birther” controversy during the president’s second term contest.
During Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 there was not that much mention of birth certificates, more of Hawaii, though — the media seemingly needing to acquaint the mainland with its existence back then. No birther blather rose all the way to the top, since John McCain had been born somewhere in Panama, so that fact made Obama’s place of birth rather moot.
It always struck me as funny that so many people wanted to believe that Obama had been born in a hut in Kenya. The contemporaneous birth notice in a Hawaiian newspaper would have been, by itself, far beyond the heroics of the most Manchurian Candidate-esque conspirators.
What the birther controversy was about, however, was Obama’s blackness, his alleged foreignness, his presumed shadow religion — linked to that unfortunate picture of him with the cloth head wrap — the not American-ness of our president, running for his second term. What might be hard to remember is that the country’s native latent racism had been fairly suppressed, muted, during Obama’s first run for the office.
One odd reason for that was the charges made, at first, by Hillary Clinton’s original African-American supporters claiming that Obama wasn’t black enough, that he hadn’t grown up with the usual African-American experience back on the mainland. There was too much Hawaii and Indonesia, only turning up in the contiguous states permanently when he went to college. Like his father, the Kenyan.
None of the Obama-isn’t-black-enough critics made that last charge back in 2008, to my knowledge. In fact, during that campaign year there was much more made of Obama’s mother and his white Kansan grandparents who played such a role in raising him when he was young. The not-black-enough campaign, however short lived, had unexpected positive results.
The birther business coming again before the second-term election was the tip of the spear of all the finally released accumulated racism that had built up during Obama’s first four years. And Donald Trump’s antic search for Obama’s birth certificate let all that simmering racism be focused.
But what has always struck me as strange, was the singular fact that of all the American presidents, Obama was, is, the only one whose father wasn’t born himself in America, or Ireland. Three Presidents (Jackson, Buchanan, Arthur) had fathers born there. Even George Washington’s father, Augustine, was born on American soil, in the Colony of Virginia, in 1694.
When Obama was/is referred to as African-American, it is truly literal. He is first generation. His father was an African. Obama is half Kenyan. I always thought that was remarkable in and of itself. Forget birth certificates. The only birth certificate I ever wanted to see back in 2008 was LeBron James’. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties when he played basketball in high school. I would have been interested in seeing proof of his date of birth.
Early in Obama’s presidency I was also struck by the fact that the last two Democratic presidents, both ending up with two terms, grew up without their birth father. What were the odds for that? In Bill Clinton’s case, his father died and was unknown to the future president; only his step father, whose name he eventually took, figured in his life. In Obama’s case, the father was there, largely invisible, in the world, until he wasn’t, certainly inspiring all those dreams from his father that resulted in Obama’s first book.
Both of these fatherless boys married women suitable for their nascent political careers. Bill Clinton seemed in his youth to favor bimbos, but he knew he would have to have a serious wife if he wanted to rise in politics. Obama’s calculations were a bit different, but no less obvious and political. Both men, it is clear, lucked out in their choices.
Yet, the Republicans have taken it upon themselves to stress Obama’s blackness, even in the current election of 2016. They may, or may not, given their liking of archaic terms, favor the word mulatto to speak of our half-white, half-black president, but they have made it clear that such a person only gets a seven year term as president, not an eight year term. Mulattoes, according to the GOP leadership, are only entitled to 7/8s of a presidency. Hence, no movement at all on President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, the last and most blatant example of Republican obstructionism.
And, of course, the presumptive Republican nominee, The Donald, keeps denouncing immigrants of whatever sort, along with claiming right of ownership of various races (“Oh, look at my African-American over here.”). But President Obama’s father wasn’t even an immigrant, illegal or otherwise. Yet, Trump’s current wife is an immigrant, filling, as she did, that important immigration fast-track category of supermodel.
I haven’t thoroughly checked, but if her husband gains the office, unlikely as that now seems, she might well be the first foreign-born First Lady. It’s not that I am a raging jingoist, but I am trying once again to make the obvious more clear: The world is getting smaller and smaller. That changes most everything, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t make the people who want to run it any larger.
The July 1st version on the Huffington Post can be found here.