On Tuesday of this week, Barack Obama turned 53. Or so we were told.
On the occasion of this presumed birthday, it might be useful to revisit a claim by Obama himself as to when he was born, one that would put his current age at 48 – or younger.
In the way of background, the story Barack Obama tells in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” is a story that he had been telling with some variation all his life and always to good effect.
When Obama hooked up with campaign guru David Axelrod in his 2004 race for the U.S. Senate, his story crystallized into a marketing strategy. This was Axelrod’s strong suit.
Guided by Axelrod, Obama held off in his breakthrough keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention for all of 46 words – including “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much” – before sharing his story with the world.
At the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, Obama leaped into the story in the very first sentence. “Four years ago,” he began, “I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas blah, blah, blah.”
In between the two convention speeches, the story of Obama’s birth was told more often than that of anyone’s since Jesus. No one, of course, told it as convincingly as Obama himself, especially in his game-saving Philadelphia speech, immodestly titled, “A More Perfect Union.”
In this speech, delivered to negate the baleful impact of the Jeremiah Wright videos, Obama attributed his faith in the American people to his “own American story.”
He reminded those few registered voters who might somehow have forgotten, “I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.”
Obama and his operatives would invest enormous political capital in what biographer David Remnick called his “signature appeal: the use of the details of his own life as a reflection of a kind of multicultural ideal.”
On many an occasion, Obama told the story of his origins with a distinctive twist to establish a particular advantage. When speaking to a black audience, as he confessed to Remnick, he did so “in a slightly different dialect.”
On the campaign trail in March 2007, Obama gave a critical speech in Selma, Alabama, the Concord Bridge of civil rights history.
There, Obama used a very different dialect, his Sunday best Southern black preacher voice, to tell a story that either: a) puts his current age at 48; or b) was so comically unanchored to reality that if a black Republican had told it, his candidacy would not have survived that night’s evening news.
“My very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today,” Obama told the civil rights veterans gathered to mark the events of “Bloody Sunday” in 1965.
“Something happened back here in Selma, Alabama,” Obama continued. This something “sent a shout across the ocean,” which inspired the Barack Sr., “herding goats” back in Kenya, to “set his sights a little higher.”
This same something also “worried folks in the White House” to the point that the “the Kennedys decided we’re going to do an airlift.”
As the saga continued, Barack Sr. got a ticket on the airlift and met Obama’s mother, a descendant of slave owners. “There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge,” preached Obama.
“So they got together, and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.”
He didn’t, and he wasn’t. The correct answer is b) comically unanchored to reality.
Something about Selma apparently inspired Obama to embellish more than usual. For starters, herding goats in his father’s town was like mowing lawns in an American one. Everyone did it as a kid.
Obama’s grandfather was the most prosperous guy in the village. Indeed, the photo of Barack Sr. as a toddler on the cover of “Dreams” shows him in Western clothes.
Barack Sr. grew up speaking English and attending Christian schools. He was working as a clerk in Nairobi, not a goatherd in East Numchuks, when he applied for the first airlift in 1959.
The Republican Eisenhower, not the Democrat Kennedy, was the president when he came to the United States.
Although born in Kansas, Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, was not exactly Dorothy. She spent her formative years in the state of Washington, hanging with her homies in her school’s “anarchist alley.”
If there ever were a romance between Dunham and Barack Sr., it likely started at closing time and ended when Senior sobered up. In any case, Selma had nothing to do with Obama’s birth.
According to his birth certificate, Obama was born in 1961, four years before anyone outside of Alabama ever heard of the town.
By the time of the march, Barack Sr. had long since abandoned Ann and baby Barry for Harvard where he hooked up with another white American woman.
So preposterous was Obama’s Selma math – by his calculations, he could have been born no sooner than 1966 – that it made the birth certificate seem at least relatively believable.
Maybe that was the intention all along.
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