In a recent article, New Yorker editor and Obama biographer David Remnick posed the question of whether the president’s father, Barack Obama Sr., had been murdered.
In reading the galleys of Peter Firstbrook’s forthcoming history of the African side of the president’s family, “The Obamas,” Remnick had been moved to wonder whether Obama’s 1982 death in a car crash was really accidental.
When the article was published, one of my own correspondents, who prefers the pseudonym “Mr. Southwest,” was deep in his own research on the Obama clan.
What Mr. Southwest’s research reveals, more than anything else, is the shabbiness of the major media’s inquiry into the background of President Barack Obama. Indeed, we already know more about Christine O’Donnell than we do about our commander in chief.
In August 2008, then–Newsweek editor Jon Meacham laid down the baseline of what we were expected to believe pre-election about the death of Obama Sr. On a buoyant night, high on the possibility of a major promotion, a drunken Obama “ran off the road and crashed into the tall stump of a giant gum tree. He died instantly.”
Meacham approvingly quotes Obama’s “Granny” – not his real grandmother, in Obamaland little is real – to the effect that “this son is realizing everything the father wanted – fighting for people, the dreams of the father are still alive in the son. The two loved each other so much.”
In his recent book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” Dinesh D’Souza makes the same case as Granny, although he is obviously less thrilled about what father and son were fighting for.
To close their respective cases, Meacham first and then D’Souza have to ignore all the inarguable evidence that young Barry never lived with Obama Sr., let alone loved him, and may not have even been his son.
They also have to ignore Bill Ayers’ role in the writing of Obama’s 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” Obama’s sorrowful reflection on his father’s death almost perfectly mirrors Ayers’ reflection on the death of his lover Diana Oughton in his memoir “Fugitive Days” and thus means little.
As Mr. Southwest observes, the media tend to accept those accounts at face value that reinforce the standard Obama narrative and ignore those that do not.
For instance, although President Obama is the spitting image of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, the extravagant claims of Obama relatives that Junior and Senior Obama look and acted alike pass unchallenged.
When, however, the African Obamas make claims that vary from the accepted Obama narrative, the media become much more skeptical.
For instance, the same Granny Meacham quotes unquestioningly on family resemblance he dismisses when she tells him that young Barry Obama attended the senior Obama’s funeral.
“Obama did not attend his father’s burial,” writes Meacham. “He came to Kenya only in 1987, on a journey, perhaps, to metaphorically bury Senior – or ‘the Old Man,’ as others in the family called him.”
Chronology is a frequent problem in Obama lore. In “Dreams,” young Obama leaves on his famed African pilgrimage immediately after his weepy first visit to Rev. Wright’s church and just before he begins Harvard, not in 1987, but in 1988.
Structurally, this timing works. Its accuracy is another question. Africa.com traced his first visit to Kenya to 1983, the summer after college graduation, “when he had come to mourn his late father.”
Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell also puts this first visit in 1983. U.K.’s Independent and Obama’s Uncle Sayid specify 1987 for the first trip, as did Obama himself when speaking to college students in Kenya in 2006. Remnick sticks to the official version of 1988 in his exhaustive 2010 Obama biography, “The Bridge.”
In “Dreams,” Obama dedicates 131 pages to this African pilgrimage. It is the climactic chapter of the book and presumably his life. And yet two years into his presidency, there is still nothing close to a consensus as to when he actually made this journey.
In reviewing the literature on the senior Obama’s life and death, Mr. Southwest has found an extraordinary range of accounts, some fully at odds with others.
In one account, he is on a “descending path” at the time of his death. In Meacham’s account, he was in a “jovial mood” on the night he died. President Obama himself clears up nothing when he awkwardly tells Mendell that Obama Sr. was “sort of being tragically destroyed.”
For the history of a minor official in a semi-chaotic country, this inconsistency does not surprise. What does surprise, shock actually, is that the retelling of young Barry’s life is not a whole lot more consistent than that of the old man.
In my forthcoming book, “Deconstructing Obama,” I will help straighten the record out.