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The Weirdest Thing In "Barack Obama: The Story"
The weirdest thing in David Maraniss's highly respectable biography Barack Obama: The Story is that the veteran Washington Post reporter does not appear utterly convinced, after years of research, that President Barack Obama Jr. is the biological son of Barack Obama Sr.
I wasn't sure if I actually believed that Maraniss was hinting that he's not completely confident in Obamas paternity until I saw that in James Fallow's review of Maraniss's book in the New York Times, the prominent Atlantic journalist picks up and retransmits Maraniss's dog whistle that there might be something screwy, writing:
(Grandfather Stanley, with his long face and big ears, is also the forebear with the most striking physical resemblance to Barack Obama; the president looks almost nothing like his African father.)
Fallows likes interesting ideas and he also likes being an establishmentarian journalist. This is a well-played dog whistle that a tiny number of New York Times readers will pick up on, while maintaining completely plausible deniability that he hasn't had the slightest unorthodox thought in the direction of any kind of oddball birtherism.
Maraniss has various governmental records of the marriage, and even a new third party confirmation that "Stanley had a baby" as a doctor at the hospital laughed a few days later at lunch. But he points out repeatedly that almost nobody can remember ever seeing the couple together, before or after marriage. The main witness to seeing them together in the book is Obama Sr.'s college friend Neil Abercrombie, the current Democratic governor of Hawaii, whom Maraniss doesn't appear to trust.
Maraniss can find zero evidence that the couple ever lived together. He says that Stanley Ann was in Seattle to attend the U. of Washington within a month of the August 1961 birth, without her mother but with the baby, which I'd heard before but still sounds screwy to me. We have long had a witness, a lady who took care of Barack Jr. in Seattle during the Spring 1962 semester, and we've had Stanley Ann's grades from Fall 1961, so I guess it fits.
This raises obvious questions about Obama's career-launching 2004 convention keynote address that starts out talking about his parents' "improbable love."
In general, most of Maraniss's new revelations of sizable falsehoods in Obama's works can't really be blamed on Obama, since they stem from before he can remember. He writes, for example, that his parents were together for two years, but you can't really blame him for getting wrong facts from his infancy. He comes from a long line of people who like a good story and don't mind spin. You'll notice that Obama often puts a little skeptical spin of his own on stories passed down to him: everybody listening to that speech took "improbable love" to mean that, awwwwwww, it's just amazing that two people from the opposite ends of the earth fell so deeply in love with each other and tried to make a life together. But, Obama is also not ruling out that what he was told was a crock: Hey, I told you all it was "improbable," didn't I? Likewise, in Dreams he says he was assured that his parents were married in February 1961, but that he's never had the heart to look into it.
In general, Obama does not like to tell baldfaced lies, especially when some lawyerly language would accomplish the task almost as well.
What do I think? I dunno. I'll have to go through and copy out Maraniss's relevant passages and think about this.
Maraniss hypothesizes that maybe they tried living together and Obama Sr. punched out Stanley Ann like he beat Ruth, his next American wife, so Stanley Ann bolted.
One way to look into this paternity questions would be to look at pictures of Obama's presumed half siblings, such as Mark, his half-Jewish half-brother. Mark seems to look enough like Barack Jr. to me to not set off my alarms, but I don't claim to be an expert at family resemblances.
The youngest Obama half-brother is George Obama, who is all East African. He is interviewed in Dinesh D'Souza's new movie (reviewed by me here.) In the movie, George's posture looks strikingly like a jet black, super elongated, somewhat District 9-like version of Obama. On the other hand, George could just be imitating the President's famous look-how-comfortable-I-am-in-my-own-skin body language.
The various non-Obama Sr paternity theories that have been floating around (Frank Marshall Davis! Malcolm X! etc.) don't do much for me. So, I'll think about it some more.
In general, uncertainty of paternity doesn't sound like it really ought to matter. There was some uncertainty regarding Gerald Ford, who only talked to his biological dad once for 15 minutes, and there are lots of theories, but not much proof, about whom Bill Clinton's real father might be.
But Obama's birth, uniting the two warring tribes in one flesh, one blood, as he implies in is his keynote address always dabbled deeply in the mythic, in what my son the comic book fan calls the trope of the "orphan of destiny," of the son who isn't sure who is father is.