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What if Lolo Soetoro were Obama's father? (A Hypothetical)
No, I'm not suggesting a new paternity theory to go along with all the wacky ones we already have. Instead, I'm suggesting a thought experiment to assess the impact that being able to self-identify as black had on our President's career.
My contention has been: "Obama is President for the same dumb reason as the last guy was President: because of who his daddy was." How can we test that?
It's easy to perform a similar thought experiment on the previous President. If George W. Bush had been born George W. Rush, would he have become President? You can even assume the Rushes were as materially prosperous as the Bushes. The only difference in our thought experiment is that George W. Rush's father wasn't President Rush and his grandfather wasn't Senator Rush.
So, would George W. Rush have become President of the United States? Would he even have been considered Presidential timber?
Of course not. He might have become, say, national sales manager of some corporation. But that's about it.
Note that this is not a question of whether George W. Rush would have beaten Al Gore and John F. Kerry. Maybe, knowing the deficiencies of those candidates, George W. Rush might have. Instead, this is a question of whether George W. Rush would have, out of 300 million people, ever been imagined to be President by anybody outside his own brain? I think most would agree the answer is: no. (George W. Bush would have lost a Presidential election if the only voters were his parents and the only candidates were himself and his brother Jeb.)
What about Obama? Would he have ever been considered for the Presidency if his father hadn't been black?
The current President would seem to have a much more unique background that would make it difficult to plug him into this kind of thought experiment. Yet, Ann Dunham's propensity for marrying U. of Hawaii students from politically well-connected families with a history of anti-colonial activism in their tropical homelands, who then return to their Third World countries and get jobs with American oil companies makes our conceptual task surprisingly easier.
Would our current President have become President in an alternative universe in which he was not Barack Obama, the son of Ann Dunham's Kenyan first husband, but (permanently) Barry Soetoro, the son of her Indonesian second husband?
After all, Lolo spent more time and money on little Barry than Barack Sr. ever did. Barack Sr.'s contribution was limited to a few letters, one visit, a basketball, his genes, and as a role model of a black political leader in Ann's (highly fictionalized) lectures to her son about her romantic first husband's ambitions for his people (in sharp contrast to her increasingly unsatisfactory second husband's ambitions to provide for her and little Barry).
Assume, for the purposes of this thought experiment, that the conventional wisdom that race doesn't exist is right, and that Barry Soetoro would have turned out exactly the same in all ways being Lolo's genetic son as Barack Obama Jr. did being Bararck Sr.'s genetic son, except that he wouldn't have had any justification to self-identify as black, which is, as we all know, purely a cultural construct.
Alternatively, assume that Lolo and Ann had never mentioned to Barry that Lolo wasn't his genetic father and, because race doesn't exist, therefore nobody else noticed either.
Minus the racial angle, that's roughly the story of Gerald Ford's upbringing -- he only spent 15 minutes in his life talking to his biological father. Likewise, nobody is all that sure who Bill Clinton's biological father really was.
If Ford and Clinton had self-identified with different fathers, would that have permanently banished them from ever being even considered as Presidential timber? Maybe, but maybe not. In their quite different ways -- Ford was an All-American athlete, a male model before he went bald, and a Yale Law School grad, while Clinton was a political ball of fire and a Yale Law School grad -- they were early on recognized as guys with a lot of political potential. Their unusual yet mundane family backgrounds didn't seem to play a huge role in their careers, one way or another.
So, is Obama more like George W. Bush or like Ford and Clinton? Assume everything else about his upbringing through age 18 was the same, except that instead of Barack Obama then going through life as a Potential First Black President, Barry Soetoro then went through life as, theoretically, a Potential First Half-Asian President.
How far would an equally talented, equally ambitious half-Asian half-white Barry Soetoro have gotten in American life?
Being half-black, Barack Obama was the one we were waiting for. But, as far as I can tell, not many Americans are particularly waiting around for the First Half-Asian Whatever. Would Barry Soetoro have gotten a six-figure advance to write the autobiography of the first half-Asian editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro have been elected editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro even have been been admitted to Harvard Law? (Barack Obama said, while he was at Harvard, that he had been the beneficiary of affirmative action, so it's certainly legitimate to wonder.)
Overall, how far would Barry Soetoro have gotten?
Head of the admissions office at Occidental? Chief newsletter editor at Business International? Head of the New York chapter of Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group? State Senator from Evanston, IL? Magna cum laude graduate of the U. of Hawaii law school?
Everything I know about the man suggests that, all else being equal, if he weren't able to self-identify as black, he would have carved out for himself a comfortable, respectable, and worthy life and made a positive social contribution. He would certainly have ranked among the top few million people in America.
But, President Soetoro?