“Believe me, as a busy single mother,” Michelle Obama said to a gape-jawed interviewer in Vermont last week before correcting herself, “or, I shouldn’t say single! As a busy mother, sometimes, you know, when you’ve got a husband who’s president, it can feel a little single, but he’s there!”
In the days since, many in the media have attempted to interpret the gaffe, but almost all have overlooked the obvious – the relentless celebration of single motherhood in Obama’s America.
As Obama learned early in his candidacy for presidency, there was no reward to be had for identifying single motherhood as a problem to be solved.
In a turning point of his career, Obama told a large church congregation in Chicago on Father’s Day 2008 that too many fathers were “missing,” and nowhere was that “more true than in the African-American community.”
Jesse Jackson promptly used a hot mic on Fox News to let it be known that Obama spoke out of turn. “I want to cut his nuts out. Barack,” said Jackson with impunity. “He is talking down to black people, telling ni–-ers how to behave.”
Obama got the message. From that time on, he used his Father’s Day addresses not to chastise missing fathers but to champion single mothers and to applaud himself as a child of such a circumstance, even if he had to lie to make his point.
In his 2011 Father’s Day speech, for instance, Obama fabricated his background to make himself seem more authentically black. “I grew up without my father around,” he claimed. “He left when I was 2 years old.”
No, Barack Obama Sr. did not leave when Obama was 2. He never lived with the boy and his mother, Ann Dunham. But Obama did not grow up fatherless. Lolo Soetoro filled the void almost immediately and would do so for the next 11 years.
According to Janny Scott, the New York Times reporter who spent years researching Ann’s life, Soetoro began dating Ann in late 1963 right around the time Obama turned 2. There are photos to prove it.
Soetoro was expected to return to Indonesia in 1964, both to comply with American immigration law and to honor his contract with the Indonesian government. He did not want to go.
So he got married. On her 1981 passport application, Ann claims March 5, 1964, as her marriage date. Scott confirms this date in her book, “A Singular Woman”: “[Soetoro] and Ann had married on March 5, 1964, shortly after she divorced Obama.”
According to Soetoro’s INS file, however, he and Ann did not marry officially until March 15, 1965. It is likely that Ann imagined a 1964 marriage to Soetoro for the sake of appearances much as she likely did with Obama three years prior. Then too, a documented marriage to Soetoro might have forced her to give up her fabled food stamps.
In any case, three months after the official marriage, when questioned by the INS, Soetoro did not remember the date. The wedding obviously did not make much of an impression.
Despite the marriage, the pressure was mounting on Soetoro to return to Indonesia. As now seems something of a family tradition, the young couple simply lied about their circumstances.
In July 1965, for instance, Lolo told the INS he could not return to Indonesia because his wife had a stomach ailment requiring surgery.
When questioned, however, Lolo could not name the doctor. When a doctor finally did send a letter to the INS on Soetoro’s behalf, all he offered as an excuse was potential “emotional strain” on Ann.
By 1968, the future president had moved to Indonesia with his mother and stepfather, and his mother listed him on the passport application as “Barack Hussein Obama (Soebarkah).”
Before signing the application, Ann had to attest to several conditions. Most would have no applicability to her son, but one might have.
It reads as follows: “I have not (and no other person to be included in the passport or documentation has), since acquiring United States citizenship, been naturalized as a citizen of a foreign state.”
The application then cautions the signer that if any of these acts apply to anyone named on the passport, “the portion which applies should be struck out.”
Likely after reading this, Ann struck out the name “Barack Hussein Obama (Soebarkah)” with five carefully placed scratch lines. This would seem to strengthen the case that Obama was adopted by Soetoro and became a citizen of Indonesia.
The game playing picks up again in 1972. Ann and her daughter with Soetoro, Maya, returned to Hawaii that year. Her son had returned a year earlier. According to the INS documents, Soetoro returned to Hawaii on Oct. 8, 1972.
What is curious is that in Scott’s allegedly authoritative biography, she has Soetoro in Indonesia for all but a brief time during this second Hawaii period. Writes Scott, Ann was “in effect, a single mother.” Her need for an advanced degree “required that she live apart from Lolo, at least for a time.”
The INS records, however, suggest that Soetoro was in Hawaii during virtually all of this “single motherhood” period. Food stamps, anyone?
Ann returned to Indonesia for fieldwork in 1975 with Maya, but without her 13-year-old son, who remained behind with his grandparents.
Scott says little about Soetoro’s whereabouts during this period, although she notes that Ann and Maya went to live with Soetoro’s mother in early 1976. The couple would not divorce until 1980.
In her treatment of Ann’s two presumed marriages, Scott tries to honor the official Obama narrative. First, she fully manufactures a domestic life for the boy and his mother with Obama Sr. to sustain the multicultural ideal that Obama first spun in “Dreams from My Father.”
Then, Scott subtracts years from the mother and son’s genuine domestic life with Soetoro to advance the “single mother” myth and to suppress any talk of Muslim influences on Obama or Indonesian citizenship.
For Scott, like Michelle Obama, being a “single mother” is a mark of authenticity, and if you have to spin your way to that status, so be it.