Dreams from My Father

Most people have probably expressed to others or at least thought to themselves some opinions about President Obama. I have, as well, but decided recently that to be fair in my assessments of both him and his presidency I should read his Dreams from My Father, written in 1995 and updated in 2004, not that I could get inside his head and hope to know much comprehensively. In this book, Obama recounts the main events of his life virtually from the beginning until his becoming a law-school student in the late 1980s. My conclusions are not remarked pejoratively, merely stated as…conclusions.

Two things stick out – obsession with race/personal-identity and a bent toward being a dreamer. Notwithstanding the fact that Obama’s mother was Midwestern-white, he makes it plain that he is an African American, a black, not a white. Unlike Tiger Woods, who claimed to be multi-racial, Obama made it clear that he identifies with blacks. In his famous “invasion” of Berlin in the summer of 2008 during the campaign, he made it clear that he was a “different” American from those the Germans had recognized previously…black, not white. Indeed, he basked in that revelation.

On page 171 of the paperback edition is a mention of the fact that he had heard that his grandmother was “scared of a black man,” perhaps a precursor to his alluding to it after his famous “race speech” in Philadelphia in March 2008 (typical white person), the speech being largely an unsuccessful attempt to whitewash racist remarks by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah (God damn America) Wright, his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Without question, he identified with Wright, having been a 20-year-member of the church and hearing Wright constantly berate white people in his sermons, even accusing them of inventing HIVAIDS in order to kill blacks.

At page 100 describing his time at Occidental College, Obama, to prove his loyalty to blackness, wrote that he chose as friends the more politically active black students, foreign students, Chicanos, Marxist professors, structural feminists and punk rock performance poets. The term he used to describe his “crowd” was alienated, “resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints.” He wrote, “… it remained necessary to prove which side you were on … .” This “class” approach smacked of victimization and may be the driving force in Obama’s world, characterized by some as Marxist or socialist.

In any case, dredging up the race question in the campaign for no discernible reason other than exonerating Wright simply pointed to his obsession with the subject, not to mention his loyalty to Wright, whose phrase he used in titling a later book, The Audacity of Hope. Later, he disavowed Wright but only after the preacher had appeared before the National Press Club a few days after the Philadelphia incident, praising Nation of Islam guru Farrakhan and accusing this country of terrorism.

Obama’s Kenyan father (also named Barack Obama) had multiple wives, but in Kenya, apparently, that was okay. He was already married, with children, when he married Obama’s mother and later abandoned them both, first attending Harvard and then returning to Kenya, where he married yet another white woman. Whether or not polygamy was/is acceptable anywhere, it was certainly acceptable to Obama, Sr., because he was a Muslim. Muslim men are allowed four wives, though Osama bin Laden, the world’s most notorious Muslim, was the son of his father’s tenth wife. Mohammad seems to have had 12 wives, one of them a nine-year-old.

The final segment of the book is devoted to Obama’s first trip to Kenya to visit his relatives, a bittersweet recounting of what he found, especially about his father. By that time, late 80s, his father had died some years before as the result of an auto accident. What he found was tribal tension and poverty, which he may automatically have connected to the slavery matter in this country, thus firming his identification with blackness, never mind that he never suffered more than socially – if that – because of his preferred ethnicity, and had all the advantages he needed to do well.

Obama’s father, with his Harvard doctorate, was successful in business and also held high office for a time in the Kenyan government but was on the wrong side tribally and was later reduced to having practically nothing, though attempting to live as if he did. His relatives did not spare the father in re-introducing him posthumously to Obama, who had met his father only once during a tension-filled month in Hawaii when Obama was ten. Obama learned that his father was a sort of charmer and dreamer, unable to face his failures while being demanding and overbearing with his children.

It might not be fair to say that in this case the fruit did not fall far from the trunk of the tree…or the book might indicate just that. Obama is charming and speaks well enough but perhaps gave away his bent toward dreaming – like his father – when he virtually casually said during the campaign that he would sit down with Ahmadinejad without pre-conditions and talk things out, thus showing a complete misunderstanding of his self-supposed powers of persuasion (charm) or of world affairs. Or…he rather glibly (dreamily) campaigns now for democrats, depending on his charm at a time when this nation demands substance, not charisma.

Hopefully, Obama has matured – at least politically – since his days at Occidental, recognizing that class warfare is not acceptable. Much of the book had to do with his “organizing” activities in Chicago in the 80s, many of which were praiseworthy and effective. He may have mentioned it but did not make much of the fact, however, that the almost total breakdown of the black family lies at the heart of black troubles, not white people or the U.S. government.