Sen. Barack Obama’s background looms important for some people, including Obama himself. Since the advent of modern psychology, we’ve been in the habit of deducing the child from the parents. But the world is more serpentine than all that. Sometimes the child is not an apple fallen from the parental tree. Because of the intervention of the human will – think of former President Bill Clinton in the act of re-invention – likes sometimes produce opposites. In addition to learning from one’s own mistakes, one may also learn valuable lessons from the mistakes of one’s parents.
Former president Richard Nixon’s parents, both Quaker quietists, were not, one supposes, ardent accolades of Fredrick Nietzsche.
“I can’t find my copy,” Nixon said to Monica Crowley when his Nietzsche appeared to be lost in 1992. “I must have lent it out to someone. I can’t believe I’m missing my Nietzsche! I always try to look at this stuff during a presidential campaign to remind me of why I went through the damned fire.”
Possibly he had lent it to Henry Kissinger.
That gem of an apercu is to be found in Michael Knox Beran’s review of Rick Perlstein’s book “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” in the June issue of “National Review.”
Because life slices us to the quick on a slant – “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” says the poet Emily Dickenson -- it will always be a little presumptuous to reason from the politics of the parent to that of the child. Most men and women do not fall prostrate into the deterministic arms of their childhood experiences.
Obama’s childhood was, shall we say, messy. His father was an extremely ambitious egotist who fell into the bottle late in life after having jumped merrily through multiple marriages. Barack Hussein Obama did not consider it important to tell wife number one that he had married again and fathered a child until after he had been involved in an automobile accident that deprived him of his legs. Barack’s mother fell in love with his father when she was an impressionable 18, married him, and saw him abandon her and her child to pursue his ambitions at Harvard, when he might as easily had taken his family with him to a less prestigious college in New York. Later Obama's mother remarried a businessman whose life style her education and proclivities taught her to spurn, which is not to say she did not appreciate his attentions.
Obama’s father was a daredevil failure in politics. An ardent socialist and Harvard trained economist, he inserted himself brashly into Kenyan politics with a piece he wrote for “The East Africa Journal” that attacked from the socialist left the views of “third way” leader Tom Mbova. According to a book written by authors E. S. Atieno Odhiambo and David William Cohen called “The Risks of Knowledge,” Obama, joining forces with radical economist Dharam Ghai critiqued a document endorsed by Mbova. His sympathies placed him in the camp of communist-allied leader Oginga Odinga.
Obama’s paper presses for the communal ownership of land, the nationalization of “European” and “Asian” owned enterprises, dramatic increases in taxes on “the rich (“Theoretically, there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed.”), a rejection of “African Socialisn” in favor of “scientific socialism” (communism), and the institution of government run “model farms,” likely modeled after the agricultural adventurism pursued by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930’s designed around a man made famine in Ukraine, since Roman times known as the breadbasket of Europe.
The choices made by Obama’s father shortened his political career. In America, the land of second beginnings, poor choices are not always politically fatal.
Ideologies are not passed on from parents to children in their genetic makeup, but a man is molded by the choices he makes, especially as he grows out of his childhood and takes command of his fate. That is the chief lesson Obama the son ought to have learned from his father. In Africa, there are few second chances for politicians who make imprudent choices.
Obama’s mother was a fiercely independent warmed over socialist. But the choices she made for Obama after his father abandoned him were good ones.
When Omaba was six, his mother married an Indonesian student and the new family moved to Jakarta. Her new husband quickly succumbed to Indonesian ways displeasing to Obama’s mother, whereupon she divorced and sent Obama to live with her parents in Honolulu.
Obama’s own childhood environment was rich in possibilities. His formative years were spent in Hawaii, then as now the most racially diverse state in the union and a virtual utopia of racial harmony, Steve Sailer points out in a 2007 article in the American Conservative:
“Like Obama, many Hawaiian residents are the products of mixed marriages: in 1956-57, interracial marriage rates ranged from 22.0 percent for professionals to 43.5 percent for farm workers. There’s not much of a one-drop-of-blood rule for defining racial membership in Hawaii that mandated that Obama call himself black and only black.”
Hawaii was not Harlem; still less was it, during Obama’s childhood, the Alabama of George Wallace.
Now that Obama is all grown up, he is able to carve out choices that will shape his future and the future of the country that raised him to his eminent status as the all but certain Democrat nominee for president of the United States.
Many of us are hoping that the nightmares of his father will not haunt his dreams as president.