Sally Jacobs’ new book on the president’s father, “The Other Barack,” tells us as much about contemporary journalism as it does Barack Obama Sr. What follows are some observations on both.
The book opens well. The first two sentences read, “Every man who has served as president of the United States had parents who lived out their lives upon American soil. Barack H. Obama did not.” Race-baiters take note: Obama’s unique background is what drives the “birther” movement.
Not all journalists are created equal. Jacobs of the Boston Globe received copies of INS documents that were un-redacted while the same documents sent to Heather Smathers of the less politically reliable Arizona Independent were redacted.
Jacobs does an excellent job tracking Obama’s career in Africa and an oddly shabby job of tracking it in the United States.
Jacobs tells us nothing, for instance, about Obama’s wedding to Ann Dunham, the birth of his son and the whereabouts of Dunham for the six months prior to the birth. Yet, fathering the president is the only reason Obama gets a biography.
Jacobs describes the courtship and Kenyan wedding of the American Ruth Baker and Obama with much more detail than she does Dunham and Obama.
Like Obama biographers Janny Scott and David Remnick, Jacobs crudely bends the facts of the first year post-baby to sustain the illusion of an Obama family life that that never was.
Jacobs notes that in 1997 State Sen. Obama “deftly extracted himself” from any claim on his father’s $57,000, but she does not say why.
Jacobs cites 1988 as the year of President Obama’s first African visit. Obama claims 1987.
Jacobs makes unforced errors as well. She talks about the “six years [Obama] lived in the United States,” when, in fact, he lived here fewer than five years.
Jacobs notes that senior Obama pronounced his first name “BEAR-ick” as in army barrack. In “Dreams from My Father,” Barry tells a friend she can call him “Barack” only if she can “say it right.” Barry, however, has always said it wrong as “buh-ROCK.”
Jacobs primly conceals the abortion senior Obama likely arranged for a Kenyan girl attending high school in Massachusetts.
One redacted document reads as follows, “She may have gone to London for REDACTED and will undoubtedly be seeking to return.” The redacted space is the perfect size for “an abortion.”
A second document notes that the girl claimed to be going to London to visit a sick sister, but the INS determined she had no sister. Says the document again, “She may have gone to London for REDACTED.” As the documents note, boyfriend Obama was frantically working to get her re-admitted to the U.S.
Jacobs pulls her punches. Likely working from an un-redacted document, she writes, “The girl was not only doing poorly in school but had taken an unauthorized trip to London.” That is it.
Jacobs totally botches the timeline of Dunham’s relationship with Lolo Soetoro. As Jacobs describes it, the two “had fallen in love” when Obama was 4. In fact, they married when he was 3. Maybe they fell in love later.
“By 1968,” writes Jacobs, “Ann Dunham had married Soetoro, and the family settled in Jakarta.” No, they married in 1965, and mother and son moved to Jakarta in 1967. Soetoro had moved there in 1966.
The Wikipedia entry on Soetoro gets the timeline of baby Obama’s first year right: Dunham was “living in Seattle, Wash., with her infant son Barack from September 1961 to June 1962 while taking classes.” So why can’t Jacobs, Scott, or Remnick?
On the occasion of Obama’s visit to Hawaii in 1971, Jacobs claims he and Dunham drove by the house “where Ann and her 1-year-old son ultimately retreated to live with her parents after her husband had left her.” No, she left her husband for Seattle a year earlier.
To her credit, Jacobs notes that Obama was not on that “famous first airlift” of African students to America, although his son “declared it” many times on the campaign trail.
As in the case of his son, Jacobs uses the word “brilliant” or something like it regularly to describe the senior Obama. Yet, he did poorly on tests, which she finds “difficult to understand given Obama’s obvious intellectual gifts.”
In a recent article in the Claremont Review of Books, national-security guru Angelo Codevilla makes a provocative claim.
“Another photo, published in a Honolulu newspaper in 1959,” he writes, “shows [Ann's father] Stanley Dunham escorted by uniformed U.S. Navy officers, greeting Barack Obama Sr., as he arrived in Hawaii from Kenya.”
In the photo, Dunham stands next to Obama smiling. Codevilla contends that the CIA might well have assigned Dunham to keep an eye on Obama, an unwitting pawn in the agency’s mission to woo the emerging African elite.
If Codevilla is right, then Jacobs’ book is close to all wrong. In her account, Obama arrives alone and friendless in Hawaii, not surrounded by 20 well-wishers, chief among them a future father-in-law who was not yet supposed to be there.
If the date of the photo can be verified as 1959, Codevilla is likely right, and the mystery deepens.